OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegians decorated the streets of their capital with flowers Tuesday in a show of national unity as they began to overcome the shock caused by the mass slaughter of young people by a home-grown extremist.
The country remains in mourning for the 76 people killed by anti-Islam zealot Anders Behring Breivik in a cold-blooded island shooting and a huge bomb blast in Oslo last Friday.
“We don’t want this horrible man to change Norway,” said Lars Andersen, a retired military officer. “And he won‘t. People aren’t talking about revenge but uniting behind our values.”
Police chief of staff Johan Fredriksen said Oslo was “taken back by its population” as some streets around the blast site in the heart of the government district reopened to the public.
Oslo’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johans Gate, was showered with flowers as Norwegians paid their respects to the victims of their worst-ever peacetime massacre.
Breivik’s lawyer said his client was probably insane -- a view that many have held since Friday. “He’s completely insane. Very, very, very sick,” said passerby Erik Moe.
Countless red and white roses, many left over from a march Monday that brought 200,000 people into central Oslo, were tucked into bushes, woven around benches and laid beside lampposts, in fountains and even in front of police barriers.
Two statues of resting lions that guard the road to parliament were decorated with hundreds of flowers and letters. One card called on Norwegians to “unite and overcome evil.”
Many people, taking advantage of a break in the rainy weather, strolled along the newly opened streets around the cordoned-off blast zone.
Workers at a corner convenience store about 150 meters from the blast were painting the plywood boards put up in place of blown-out windows. Others were busy cleaning up inside.
“Getting the glass (windows) will take a week or two and the wood looks better painted,” said deputy store manager Aykan Bastas. “We will fix it up nice, just like before.”
Newspapers debated what to do with the 17-storey government building, severely damaged by the blast.
“(It) could become a memorial as it stands or it could be rebuilt,” Associate Professor Erling Dokk Holm told the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv. Others wanted to restore the building, whose facade bore an etching of a Picasso painting.
The square in front of Oslo cathedral has become a focal point for people paying their respects to Breivik’s victims.
A small island of flowers, candles and red, white and blue Norwegian flags that first appeared at the foot of the yellow brick facade of the 17th century cathedral has spread, engulfing the street nearby.
“In a few days things will hopefully be back to normal,” predicted Andersen, resting in the shade near the cathedral.
“You just can’t go on like this in a normal society.”
Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Tim Pearce