Iraq: "A day of sadness and grief", Norway's Prime Minister says

"War has broken out in Iraq, but Norway is not at war. This is a day of sadness and grief - firstly for the Iraqi people. They have suffered long under Saddam Hussein's despotic regime, marked by wars and oppression", Norway's Prime Minister, Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, told a press conference in Oslo on Thursday morning. Participating on the press conference was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jan Petersen.

"Military operations have now been initiated against Iraq. There is no clear basis in international law for this war. Norway has consistently stuck to the view that military action requires a new decision by the UN Security Council", Mr. Bondevik said.

"Until the final moment our hope was that Saddam Hussein would comply with the demands of the UN Security Council. Regrettably this was not the case", he said.

The Prime Minister said that in the present situation it is important that civilians be spared as far as possible, and that their sufferings be alleviated through efficient humanitarian efforts.

"We hope military operations may be brought to a swift end. In a further perspective it must be ensured that Iraq - and the Middle East in general - can foresee a future of stability, peace, liberty and democracy", Mr. Bondevik said.

The Prime Minister said the Government intends to do its utmost to alleviate the humanitarian situation, which may be very difficult. "Norway has already allowed NOK 160 million for humanitarian aid, of which NOK 130 million has already been disbursed. Norwegian voluntary organisations have until now received NOK 75 million from the Government", he said.

Norway's Government will increase its humanitarian efforts, and participate in reconstruction in Iraq.

"Chances of terrorist incidents in Norway are generally considered to be minor. However, the level of security is high for some countries' representations in Norway. The Government has organised a continuous system to evaluate preparedness", Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said.