Norway braces for challenging Breivik trial

ABBreivik AP Anders Behring Breivik

Oslo - The trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the man who has confessed to the murder of 77 people in bombing and shooting attacks in Norway on July 22, is set to be a difficult test for the country, reopening memories of the worst acts of violence since World War II.

Breivik is to face charges of terrorism and premeditated murder in the Oslo District Court on Monday. A key issue during the 10-week trial is whether the 33-year-old, should he be found guilty, will be considered sane and accountable for his actions or not.

Two teams of court-appointed psychiatrists who have assessed his mental health are at odds over this. Just a week before the trial opening, a new assessment showed Breivik was "not psychotic" at the time of the attacks and noted there was a "high risk that violent crime would be repeated".

In November, two other court-appointed psychiatrists concluded that Breivik was legally insane and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, suggesting he should be committed to a secure psychiatric unit.

Breivik has - via his attorneys and in a recent open letter to newspapers - maintained he is sane, stating that being committed to a psychiatric ward would be a fate "worse than death".

The first week of the trial has been reserved for Breivik's testimony. Defence attorney Geir Lippestad has cautioned it would be "very challenging", and that Breivik might even express regret that the death toll was not even higher.

Breivik, has shown no remorse, and has said his actions were designed to punish the government for its pro-immigration policies.

During the trial, the defence plans to call other psychiatric experts. Also expected is testimony from three Islamists to explain an ideology with which Breivik has said he was at war. Other witnesses are to include experts on political ideologies and supporters of far-right groups.

According to the indictment, Breivik detonated a self-made 950-kilogram bomb in a government district in Oslo that killed eight people. Later, 69 people died at a Labour Party summer camp on an island near the capital after Breivik allegedly embarked on a shooting spree. Sixty-seven people died of gunshot wounds, while two drowned or fell to their death while trying to flee.

Of the 69 who died on the island of Utoya, 34 were aged 14 to 17, while 22 were aged 18 to 20. In addition, 33 suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds.

Survivors of the attacks are due to testify, as are medical examiners who performed the autopsies.

The summer camp was attended by youth from all over Norway. "Giving testimony will be a way of moving on," Tarjei Jensen Buch told news agency NTB in Tromso, northern Norway.

The 20-year-old Buch - who is undergoing rehabilitation after sustaining a gunshot wound to the leg and other injuries - said he planned to travel abroad during part of the trial before testifying in May. He anticipated it would "extremely tough" to face Breivik again.

The attacks have led to significant soul-searching among Norwegians, both in the form of demonstrations against violence and reflection about the way in which authorities responded to the attacks.

The public response to the attacks included a "rose march" attended by tens of thousands of people in Oslo days after the killings, in a manifestation against violence and honouring the victims. But authorities have also issued several reports questioning whether the official response to the attacks could have been faster and saved more lives.

The government - supported by the opposition - has also appointed an independent July 22 commission tasked with reviewing the response to the attacks.

During the proceedings medical staff will be on standby at the Oslo court house and other court houses around the country, where the trial will be shown on closed-circuit television. - Sapa-dpa


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