OSLO, Norway – Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday apologized for flaws in the response to last year's bomb and gun rampage by a right-wing extremist who killed 77 people and pledged sweeping measures to improve terror preparedness.
Stoltenberg told lawmakers that the government is adopting an emergency plan to deal with crises, including the establishment of a new emergency response center, improving cooperation between rescue teams and a quicker flow of information between officials.
His address to Parliament came in the wake of a 500-page report by a government-appointed commission that exposed shortcomings in the Scandinavian country's crisis preparedness and highlighted police blunders during the July 22, 2011, attacks when Anders Behring Breivik gunned down 69 people on Utoya island after exploding a bomb in central Oslo, killing eight.
Breivik, who was convicted of terror and given a 21-year prison sentence that can be extended for as long as he's considered a threat to society, told the court that he had expected to be killed by police. Instead, their bungled response allowed him to hunt down panicked teenagers on Utoya for more than an hour before they arrested him.
Also, a boat carrying a SWAT team to Utoya was overloaded and stalled, while Norway's only police helicopter wasn't used because its crew was on vacation.
Norway's justice minister and police chief both resigned in the aftermath, and some critics even called on the prime minister to step down.
But Stoltenberg's actions received wide approval, winning him praise for his statesmanlike demeanor as he called for the nation to unite behind its ideals of peace, democracy and tolerance. His expressions of grief for the victims — some of whom he knew — came across as genuine and heartfelt, and he personally attended several funerals.
On Tuesday, he conceded that as head of government he held the highest responsibility and that it had taken that responsibility and led the nation in the aftermath of the massacre.
Still, he conceded that mistakes had been made and listing the main conclusions of the report he said: "For this I apologize."
"We can never correct mistakes made in the past, but we can learn from the past," he told the extraordinary session of Parliament, called by lawmakers from their summer break to discuss the commission's report. "And to do that we must create a more secure future."
Stoltenberg said that many recommendations had already been adopted to improve security but that new measures include providing military helicopters for police, upping funds for police and increasing and improving emergency exercises at "all levels of public administration"
Stoltenberg stressed that Norway must not abandon its ideals but added that "complete openness" does not promote security.
"On the other hand, a 100-percent secure society is not an open one. It's the kind of society that none of us wants to live in," he said.