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Geir Lippestad said at his first news conference that he considered the case for 10 or 12 hours before finally agreeing to take it.
Later, Lippestad told The Associated Press that he did not know why his client chose him. He once worked in the same building as Breivik and Norwegian media have reported that he has defended neo-Nazis.
"My first reaction was of course that this is too difficult, but when I sat down with my family and friends and colleagues, we talked it through and we said that today it's time to think about democracy," Lippestad said.
He added: "Someone has to do this job, the police has to do their job and the judges do their job." He was speaking in English.
"My job is not to be his friend," he said. "He will get a fair trial, that's my job to secure."
Breivik has confessed to last week's bombing in the capital and a rampage at a Labor Party retreat for young people, but he has pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges he faces, claiming he acted to save Europe from what he says is Muslim colonization.
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