Norway is one of the richest countries in the world with a peace-loving reputation.
As it heads to the polls on Monday, here are some things to know about the rugged Scandinavian nation.
The home of the seafaring Vikings who ventured out into the rest of Europe in fearsome raids more than 10 centuries ago, Norway is stable, peaceful and prosperous.
It became an independent monarchy in 1905, having left unions with Sweden and Denmark with whom it retains strong cultural bonds as Scandinavian partners.
Norway chose neutrality during the First World War and was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Declared the happiest country in the world in 2017 in a United Nations survey, the nation of 5.3 million people has the lowest population density in Europe after Iceland.
Its rugged landscape of dramatic fjords and pristine wilderness penetrates the Arctic Circle and is a major tourist draw.
Wealth backed by massive safety net
Thanks to abundant energy resources in the North Sea, Norway is a wealthy country that regularly features near the top of the UN’s worldwide Human Development Index of living standards.
In addition to oil and gas, of which it is western Europe’s leading exporter, it also has major fishing and fish farming sectors and is the leading global producer of salmon.
Its sovereign wealth fund — the government pension fund — is the world’s largest, and invests revenue from its oil operations to underpin its financial security.
With investments in nearly 9,000 companies, as well as bonds and real estate, the fund is worth close to $1 trillion (827 billion euros) and helped the country weather the 2014 drop in oil prices.
Norway is among only a handful of nations to resist international pressure to end whaling.
It has also refused twice to join the European Union but is a key EU trading partner as a member of the European Economic Area, which grants access to the region’s single market.
A founding member of the United Nations, NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Norway has taken on the role of mediator in some of the world’s most difficult international conflicts.
The capital Oslo hosted secret talks between Israel and the Palestinians and gave its name to the accord they reached and signed in Washington in 1993.
It was also in Oslo that the nearly completed peace process between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels was launched in 2012.
And it is in the capital that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded since 1901, with recipients chosen by the Norwegian Nobel Committee appointed by the country’s parliament.
The scar of Utoya
Norway’s image as a haven of peace was shattered in 2011 by far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed eight people in a bombing outside a government building in Oslo before gunning down 69 others at a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya.
Breivik, who said he killed his victims because they embraced multiculturalism, left the country forever scarred by its worst post-war disaster.
Breivik is serving 21 years in prison, which can be extended. — AFP