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(Updates with police comment on revising death toll in second, ninth paragraphs.)
July 25 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is struggling to steer Norway through its deepest trauma since World War II as the Nordic bastion of equality comes to grips with last week’s mass killings by a right-wing extremist.
As many as 86 people were gunned down on July 22 at a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utoeya, north-west of Oslo. Stoltenberg, who leads the Labor Party, said that the “paradise island of my youth” had been “transformed into hell.” The killer, 32-year-old Norwegian national Anders Behring Breivik, confessed to the shooting and a separate bombing that killed seven people, according to police.
Norway, the world’s second-richest nation per capita after Luxembourg, is reeling from Europe’s worst attack since the 2004 school massacre in Beslan, Russia, claimed about 350 lives. Home to Europe’s lowest jobless rate and biggest budget surplus, Norway must now come to terms with a threat of violence normally associated with less stable societies, the prime minister said.
“We are a small, peaceful nation,” said Stoltenberg, 52. “We’re not used to dealing with terror. We’ll not be naïve, we’ll understand that violence is also something that can hit our society.”
Norway didn’t take the threat of terrorism seriously, according to a 2009 U.S. diplomatic memorandum distributed by Wikileaks and posted on the Aftenposten newspaper’s website. The document focused on the threat of Islamist attacks.
President Barack Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 2009, told reporters that the attacks demonstrate the need for enhanced intelligence sharing.
The assassin, a former member of Norway’s anti-immigrant Progress Party, is described on a Facebook page bearing his name and image as a conservative Christian who is critical of Islam and fond of hunting.
Breivik had disguised himself as a police officer before opening fire on young Labor Party members. About 600 people had been gathered on the island at the time, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.
Police, who originally put the total number of dead at 93, said they will revise down that figure today because there were fewer fatalities than originally reported from the Utoeya shooting.
The July 22 attacks are the first examples of mass murders by a right-wing extremist in Europe since 1980, when a neo- fascist group killed 85 people in Bologna and an Oktoberfest massacre in Munich left 13 dead. In the U.S., Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
The Norwegian attacks may shift voter sentiment against the Progress Party, the second-biggest party in parliament, political analysts said. A poll conducted by Norfakta earlier this month showed the opposition Progress and Conservative parties combined would obtain a majority in the national assembly if a vote were held now, beating Stoltenberg’s three- party coalition.
Before the attacks, voters for “the right, the Progress Party and the Conservatives, had been much more enthusiastically rallying around their parties,” said Frank Henrik Aarebrot, a political scientist at the University of Bergen. Norway holds local elections on Sept. 12.
Extremist groups have gained ground in Scandinavia as fear of Islamist attacks helps to legitimize xenophobia, said Mikael Ekman, who worked at Sweden’s anti-fascist Expo magazine with the late Stieg Larsson, best known for his “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.
“It’s more OK today to be an Islamophobe,” he said in a phone interview in Stockholm. “It’s more okay to have racist views. It has become more accepted.”
Sweden’s September elections saw the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats enter parliament for the first time. In Finland, the anti-immigrant True Finns boosted their voter support fourfold in April elections, making them parliament’s third-biggest party. In Denmark, the minority Liberal-Conservative coalition has governed with the backing of the euro-skeptic, anti- immigration Danish People’s Party since 2001.
Norway’s Stoltenberg said he hopes his voters can continue to support Labor Party ideals “without being afraid” after the killings. “I will try to do what I can to keep Norway an open, democratic society,” he said.
The revelation of the killer’s identity puts to rest speculation that the attacks were perpetrated by groups linked to al-Qaeda. Police, who described Breivik as a Christian fundamentalist with no previous record of criminal offences, haven’t yet commented on what the motive for the killings was.
“Some good may come from all this,” said Lina Moen, a 29- year-old Oslo resident. “People shouldn’t jump to conclusions that this is the work of Islamic terrorists. Norwegians can be bad people too.”
--With assistance from Kim McLaughlin in Stockholm, Toby Alder, Marianne Stigset, Stephen Treloar and Meera Bhatia in Oslo and Kati Pohjanpalo in Helsinki. Editors: Tasneem Brogger, John Fraher.
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