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Picasso murals removed from Oslo building damaged by Breivik

"The Fishermen", designed by Pablo Picasso, is being removed from an Oslo government building damaged in the 2011 Breivik attack
"The Fishermen", designed by Pablo Picasso, is being removed from an Oslo government building damaged in the 2011 Breivik attack Odd ANDERSEN AFP/File
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Oslo (AFP)

Despite protests, the removal of two murals designed by Pablo Picasso began on Monday from an Oslo government building damaged in right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 attack, a project manager said.

The "Y Block", a government building complex named for its shape, is scheduled to be demolished due to damage from explosives that Breivik set before going on a shooting rampage, killing a combined 77 people.

On its grey cement walls are two drawings by Picasso that were sandblasted by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who collaborated with the Spanish master painter.

On the facade facing the street, "The Fishermen" depicts three men hauling their oversized catch onto their boat. In the lobby, "The Seagull" shows the bird, its wings spread wide, devouring a fish.

On Monday, the works, weighing 250 and 60 tonnes respectively, were enclosed in massive metal supports to be transported away and stored nearby, according to Statsbygg, the public agency in charge of overseeing the demolition.

"The operation is very slow" and should be completed by Thursday or Friday, site manager Pal Weiby told AFP.

The plan is to integrate the works into a new government building scheduled for completion in 2025.

Opponents of the project, both in Norway and abroad, have been mobilising in recent years to save the building, calling for it to be renovated and preserved as has been planned for its neighbour, "Block H".

"Block H" was home to the prime minister's offices until Breivik blew up a van loaded with 950 kilogrammes (2,100 pounds) of explosives at its base, before he went on to carry out a mass shooting on the island of Utoya.

In addition to hoping to preserve an architectural work typical of the 1960s, opponents of the destruction invoke a symbolic argument: that the government buildings should remain standing even though the right-wing extremist tried to tear them down.

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