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Tolerance tested 1 year after massacre

Anti-immigration debate reignited by Gypsy influx

- Associated Press - Sunday, July 22, 2012

OSLO, Norway — Norway's commitment to face xenophobia with tolerance on the first anniversary of bomb and gun attacks by a confessed anti-Muslim killer is being put to the test by hostile reactions to an influx of Gypsies from Eastern Europe.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says he has been disturbed by the tone of the debate over the small camps of makeshift huts set up by Gypsies in Oslo and other Norwegian cities.

After neighbors complained of unsanitary conditions, noise and illegal construction, anti-immigration politicians called for the Gypsies, also known as Roma, to be rounded up and bussed out of Norway. Online, the debate has been raw, sometimes outright racist.

"Some of what we have seen is frightening," Mr. Stoltenberg told Norwegian broadcaster TV2. "Nobody shall be judged because they belong to a certain ethnic group."

The anti-Gypsy sentiment has been no worse than elsewhere in Europe -- in fact many of the Roma say they are treated better in Norway than in their home countries, including Romania and Bulgaria.

The discussion comes at an uncomfortable time for Norway as it honored the 77 victims of the country's worst peacetime massacre in memorial services across the country Sunday.

Confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik, facing sentencing next month, has said his July 22, 2011, bombing of a government high-rise and shooting spree at a left-wing party's youth camp were the opening shots in a war against multiculturalism.

"Let us honor the dead by celebrating life," Mr. Stoltenberg said on Utoeya island, where Breivik gunned down his victims in a summer camp for members of the Labor Youth League.

Mr. Stoltenberg spoke to around 1,000 members of the league, the youth section of the party, several of whom were survivors of last year's assault.

Audience members bowed their heads as he spoke.

The debate over immigration, more civil in Norway than in many parts of Europe, was muted for months. But a harsher tone returned as authorities received complaints over the Roma camps.

"Enough is enough. Arrange a bus, send them out," Siv Jensen, the leader of the anti-immigration Progress Party, told public broadcaster NRK.

While not a European Union member, Norway is a close partner of the 27-nation bloc and allows citizens of EU nations including Romania and Bulgaria to enter freely and stay for up to three months without registering with authorities.

Since the government does not keep count of EU nationals entering the country, there are no official numbers on how many Roma have arrived. But rights activists say they have noticed an increase in Roma coming to Norway, which is largely unaffected by Europe's financial crisis because of its vast resources of offshore oil and gas.

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