OSLO (Reuters) - Up to 40,000 Norwegians gathered in Oslo on Thursday to sing a popular peace song derided by Anders Behring Breivik, the gunman on trial for the murder of 77 people, a protest organizers said showed he had not broken their tolerant society.
“It’s we who win,” said guitar-strumming folk singer Lillebjoern Nilsen as he led the singing and watched the crowd sway gently in the rain. Many held roses above their heads, and some wept.
The musical protest came on the same day that survivors of Breivik’s two attacks last July began to give harrowing testimony at his trial, including a young woman nicknamed ‘miracle girl’ who described how she had survived his bombing of government offices in central Oslo against all the odds.
The crowd chose a song - “Children of the Rainbow” - that extols the type of multicultural society Breivik has said he despised and one that he specifically dismissed during the trial as Marxist propaganda.
He has often used chillingly graphic language to describe his killing spree, but it seems to have taken his comments over the song to touch a nerve in a country that prides itself on a tradition of tolerance and justice.
The protest follows several days of defiant testimony from Breivik who has admitted he killed his victims in a blood-soaked attack on Norway’s multicultural society, but denied criminal guilt, saying he did so in defense of Norwegian ethnic purity.
“I care about the people who died and whose family members died. This march is about them and about our Norway, not his (Breivik‘s) Norway,” said Peter Solberg, a 46-year-old office worker.
As it rained gently, people then marched several blocks to the district courthouse where Breivik is on trial, close to the site where he set off a bomb that killed eight people on July 22.
Most left their roses, a symbol of the ruling Labour Party, on the security fence around the courthouse in a gesture reminiscent of a “rose march” through Oslo just days after the attack.
Thousands more Norwegians held similar musical demonstrations in towns across the country.
As the sound of singing filled the streets, survivors lined up in the courtroom to take the witness stand and describe their experience of the bombing.
“I was spitting teeth,” said Harald Foesker, who had been at work in the Ministry of Justice when the 950-kilogram fertilizer bomb went off outside his window.
“I felt at once that this was a terror attack on the government building... I called for help but nobody answered.”
He said he had lost 80 percent of his vision and that his face had to be restored afterwards, adding he was proud to live in a country that treated criminal defendants with dignity.
Breivik, 33, has called his victims “traitors” who deserved death for embracing left-wing values which, in his view, opened Europe to a slow-motion Muslim invasion.
He has said he felt he had no choice but to strike back, bombing government offices in an attack that killed eight people and staging a brutal gun massacre at a Labour Party island summer camp that killed 69 people.
Inside the specially constructed courtroom, 24-year-old Anne Helene Lund said she had been working at the government building’s reception desk when Breivik parked a big white van outside and lit a seven-minute bomb fuse.
“She was labeled ‘miracle girl’ because the doctors said it was almost impossible to survive something like this,” said her father, Jan Henrik Lund.
In addition to head and brain injuries, her legs and thighs were crushed; she was cut all over and still has glass shards stuck in her body. Some audience members wept and prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh’s eyes reddened during the testimony.
“The head injury I got caused me to fall into a coma, and as a consequence I don’t remember anything from that day, and very little from 2011,” said Lund, adding that she uses makeup to cover facial scars and still has trouble reading.
After Lund said she had been forced to move back into her parents’ home, she lightened the mood, adding that this “was not the most terrible part” of what she had been through.
Breivik, seated perhaps four meters (13 feet) away, smiled along with everyone else.
Writing by Alistair Scrutton and Walter Gibbs; Editing by Andrew Osborn