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Norway mourns, buries dead, a week after massacre

First Posted: 07/29/11 02:03 PM ET Updated: 09/28/11 06:12 AM ET

By Mohammed Abbas and Walter Gibbs

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegians united in mourning on Friday as the first funerals were held a week after anti-Islam extremist Anders Behring Breivik massacred at least 77 people in attacks that traumatized the nation.

Flanked by an imam and a bishop from Norway's Lutheran state church, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attended a ceremony in Oslo's main mosque at 1330 GMT -- the time Breivik detonated a homemade car bomb in central Oslo on July 22.

"We were victims of an attack on the heart of democracy," Stoltenberg said of the worst attacks in the Nordic nation's peacetime history, targeting Stoltenberg's ruling Labour Party. "The result was a strengthened democracy. A tighter unity."

"We want to be one community. Across faith, ethnicity, gender and rank," Stoltenberg said of a backlash against the attacks by 32-year-old Breivik, a radical Christian whose name the premier has not once uttered in public.

On Friday evening, police raised the death toll at a Labour Party summer youth camp on Utoeya island 45 km (28 miles) from Oslo to 69 from 68, many of the victims were teenagers. The shooting followed a bomb that killed 8 in Oslo.

"All the dead after the terrorist acts ... have been identified," the police said, although they stopped short of declaring 77 the final toll.

Flags around the nation flew at half mast. Norway suspended import tolls on roses since Norwegian producers are unable to meet demand for the flowers that have become the symbol of remembrance -- a red rose is the Labour Party emblem.

In Nesodden, south of Oslo, the first of the funerals was held, for Bano Rashid, an 18-year-old woman who came to Norway in 1996 with her family fleeing Kurdistan in northern Iraq. She was shot dead at the summer camp.

Rashid was the first to be buried in a newly consecrated Muslim section of the cemetery by the picturesque stone-and-wood church, built in 1175. Several hundred mourners followed her casket to the grave, led by a Lutheran priest and an imam.

"We have many Muslims living here now, so she will not be alone there for long," the Islamic cleric, Senaid Kobilica of Bosnia, said of the new area of the cemetery.

"Seeing the imam and the priest walking together from the church was a mighty image -- the strongest message that can be sent to counter the forces we have been witness to," Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.

On Utoeya island Rashid had lent a pair of rubber boots to former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who spoke to the youths before departing on a boat before the shooting.

In a second funeral, Ismail Haji Ahmed, 19, was buried near Hamar, north of Oslo. Ahmed, a dancer who appeared in a television talent show this year, was one of three in his family who were at Utoeya, parliamentarian Thomas Breen said.

"We have lost one of our most beautiful roses," he told Reuters. The two other family members survived.

Police interrogated Breivik on Friday, for the second time since he was arrested, and said he was "strikingly calm." He could face a lifetime in jail.

Muslims welcomed Stoltenberg's calls for unity.

"It was very good, very open, very inclusive for the Muslim community," said Ahmed Ali, an Iraqi-born immigrant, aged 23.

Earlier, the Labour party held a somber memorial in a hall in central Oslo with calls for more democracy and tolerance. Delegates held aloft red roses.

SUMMER CAMPS

"We have taken our country back... we will take Utoeya back," said Eskil Pedersen, head of the Labour youth movement which plans to hold more summer camps on the island.

Police believe Breivik acted alone even though he said in a 1,500-page manifesto that he was the member of a wider network of Knights Templar, bent on what he saw as a crusade to end "cultural Marxism" and save Europe.

"No others have been arrested. Everything points toward one (person)," police lawyer Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby said.

An opinion poll indicated that support for Labour had leapt about 10 percentage points in the days after the attacks, and Stoltenberg has won praise for his calm handling of the crisis.

The poll, for newspaper Sunnmoersposten, found that Labour support jumped to 38.7 percent immediately after the attacks from 28.1 percent just before, in a two-part poll each covering about 500 people in the days around July 22.

At the same time, support for the populist right-wing Progress Party, of which Breivik was once a member, fell along with backing for the opposition Conservative party.

The Progress Party became the second biggest in parliament after a 2009 election on an anti-tax and anti-immigration platform, but says Breivik was not an active member.

A court has appointed two psychiatrists to try to discover why Breivik staged his attacks, with a mandate to report back by November 1. His lawyer has said he is probably insane.

Norway plans to set up an independent "July 22 Commission" to examine the attacks, including investigating whether police reacted too slowly to the shootings at Utoeya island, when Breivik was able to kill for more than an hour.

Police have said officers drove to Utoeya from Oslo because they had no helicopter available.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Filed by Reuters  |