OSLO - The Norwegian far-right militant who massacred 77 people last summer gave a clenched-fist salute, smirked at the court and pleaded not guilty on the first day of a trial that threatens to turn into a "circus" showcasing his anti-Islamic views.

Anders Behring Breivik, 33, has said he acted in defense of his country by setting off a car bomb that killed eight people at government headquarters in Oslo last July, then killing another 69 people in a shooting spree at a summer youth camp organized by the ruling Labour Party.

The real question of the trial will be whether Breivik will be declared insane or guilty. While he risks being kept behind bars for the rest of his life, the high school dropout has said being labelled insane would be a "fate worse than death".

Listening impassively for hours as prosecutors read out an indictment detailing how he massacred teenagers trapped on a holiday island outside Oslo, he only shed tears when the court later showed one of his propaganda videos.

Wearing a suit and loosely knotted tie, Breivik entered the court in handcuffs, which were taken off just before he was seated. He smirked several times as the cuffs were removed, put his right fist on his heart then extended his hand in salute.

"I do not recognize the Norwegian courts. You have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism," Breivik told the Oslo court after refusing to stand when judges entered.

"I acknowledge the acts but not criminal guilt as I claim self defense," he added, seated in front of a bullet-proof glass wall.

Occasionally suppressing a yawn and sipping water, he stared down at the indictment papers, following without visible emotion the list of his killings as the prosecutor read out each one. Some details were so graphic that Norwegian television bleeped out descriptions of the massacres.

Breivik wiped away tears several times while watching a movie of still pictures accompanied by text of his vision of the evils of "multiculturalism" and "Islamic demographic warfare".

"I think he feels sorry for himself," said Mette Yvonne Larsen, one of the main lawyers representing victims. "His project didn't work out, that's why he's crying. He's not crying for the victims ... he's crying over his extremely childish film."

The trial is scheduled to last 10 weeks and has raised fears that it could reopen wounds in Norway, a country that prides itself on its tolerant and peaceful society.

The "lone wolf" killer intends to say he was defending Norway against multiculturalism and Islam. He says the attacks were intended as punishment of "traitors" whose pro-immigration policies were adulterating Norwegian blood.

More than 200 people took seats in the specially built courtroom while about 700 attack survivors and family members of victims watched on closed-circuit video around the country.

"Today the trial starts, and it will be a tough time for many," survivor Vegard Groeslie Wennesland, 28, said outside the courtroom. "Last time I saw him in person he was shooting my friends."

Last July 22, he set off the bomb in the center of Oslo before heading to the youth camp on Utoeya island in a lake 40 km (25 miles) outside the capital, gunning down his victims while police took more than an hour to get to the massacre site in the chaos following the blast.

An initial psychiatric evaluation concluded that Breivik was criminally insane while a second, completed in the past week, found no evidence of psychosis. Resolving this conflict could be the five-judge panel's major decision.

If found guilty and sane, Breivik faces a maximum 21-year sentence but could be held indefinitely if he is considered a continuing danger. If declared insane, he would be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely with periodic reviews.

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