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Norway in shock after “national tragedy”

People lay flowers outside Oslo cathedral Keystone

Norwegians are mourning the more than 90 people who have died following a gun attack at an island youth camp and a deadly bombing in the capital, Oslo.

Police have charged a 32-year-old Norwegian man over both incidents which took place on Friday. The international community, including Switzerland, has condemned the attacks.

Norwegian police say the man, who has been named in media reports as Anders Behring Breivik, has confessed to the bombing and shooting spree. But Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim told reporters on Sunday that the man does not accept criminal responsibility. 

The man’s lawyer said that his client had said that he was motivated by a desire to bring about a “revolution” in Norwegian society.

The man dressed as a police officer was arrested on the small wooded Utoeya island after an hour-long shooting spree at a youth camp of Norway’s ruling party. Police said by Sunday evening that the number of those who had died on the island was at least 86. More than 90 were injured.

The search for other possible victims continues, with officials expecting the death toll to rise.

The Oslo bombing killed at least seven. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Saturday morning that the attacks were “a national tragedy”.

“Never since the Second World War has our country been hit by a crime on this scale,” said Stoltenberg, whose offices were among those hit by the blast.

He added that the gunman had turned the camp from a “youth paradise into a hell”.

Deputy Police Chief Roger Andresen would not speculate on the gunman’s motives.

Stoltenberg later comforted relatives of victims along with the Norwegian King Harald.

Witnesses described how teenagers at the lakeside camp fled in panic, many leaping into the water to save themselves, when the assailant began spraying them with gunfire.

The attack came hours after the car bomb, which shook Oslo’s centre in mid-afternoon, blew out the windows of the prime minister’s building – Stoltenberg was at that time absent. It also damaged the finance and oil ministry buildings. Apart from the deaths, many were also injured.

Swiss and international reaction

In a statement released to the media on Saturday, the Swiss president Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is also the foreign minister, said that she was “profoundly shocked by the tragic events that had happened in Norway”.

“[Calmy-Rey] condemns the attacks in the centre of Oslo and on the island of Utoeya. On behalf of the government she sends her sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims,”  said the communiqué.

The foreign ministry said that at present it did not know of any Swiss victims. Swiss in Norway are asked to follow the Norwegian authorities’ instructions and if necessary to contact helplines at the Regional Consular Centre for the Nordic Countries (0046 8 676 79 00) or at the foreign ministry (0041 800 24 73 65 during office hours or 0041 31 323 30 99).

Swiss newspapers have reported widely on the attacks. “A country under siege” was the title of the Tages-Anzeiger’s article from their Scandinavian correspondent. “Terror in Oslo – was it a mad amok shooter?” asked the tabloid Blick. “Norway under the shock of a double attack,” said 24 Heures and the Tribune de Genève.

The Oslo district targeted is the very heart of power in Norway. Several newspapers pointed out that the country was unused to violence and better known for awarding and administering the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

Speaking on Swiss public radio in the early evening of Saturday, a special correspondent in Oslo said that there were still police and army on the streets of the city. People had also been trying to come to terms with the attacks. Flowers had been laid at the scene of the bombing and at other sites, he added.

The United States, European Union, Nato and Britain have all condemned the bombing and attack. 

“It’s a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring,” US President Barack Obama said.

Population: 4.9 million

Area: 323,759 km²

Main exports: Fuels and fuel products, machinery, metal products

GNI per capita: $86,440 (SFr70,786)

July 2011: At least 84 killed at a summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utoeya, hours after bomb blast in capital Oslo.

April 2007: Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 people and himself on Virginia Tech campus in the US.

April 2002: Robert Steinhäuser, kills 16 people then himself in Erfurt, Germany.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR