Stoltenberg presents cabinet shake-up

Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Friday appointed three new ministers to the cabinet in a reshuffle prompted by upheavals in the Socialist Left party, a junior member in the three-party red-green coalition government.

Stoltenberg presents cabinet shake-up
Hekki Holmås, Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Audun Lysbakken, Bård Vegar Solhjell and Kristin Halvorsen gather after Friday's announcement (Photo: Kyrre Lien/Scanpix)

“What’s happening today is a renewal of the government,” said the Labour Party prime minister.

“We’re getting in three new ministers with long experience from many other areas in politics and parliament,” Stoltenberg told reporters gathered outside the Royal Palace shortly before 11.30am.

In changes that have been widely publicized in recent days, the three Socialist Left (SV) politicians Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Bård Vegar Solhjell and Heikki Holmås were all welcomed to the government.

Thorkildsen takes over as Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion after new SV party leader Audun Lysbakken stepped down from the post amid a funding scandal.

Solhjell succeeds Erik Solheim as Minister of the Environment after Lysbakken this week ousted one of his predecessors as party leader from the post.

Holmås enters the government as Minister of International Development.

“These are people I know well and I’m looking forward to working with them in the government,” Stoltenberg said.

In a final switch, the Socialist Left’s last leader, Kristin Halvorsen received a broader portfolio as Minister of Education after the removal of Tora Aasland as Minister of Research and Higher Education.

The reshuffle came especially at the expense of Solheim — known internationally for his role as mediator in the since failed Sri Lanka peace negotiations — who made no secret of his desire to continue as international development and environment minister.

Lysbakken resigned on March 5th after his ministry approved donations to a women's self-defence group that was at the time linked to his party.

The scandal has worsened the Socialist Left's haemorrhaging in the polls, something experts say explains its need to put forth new faces just over a year before the next general elections.

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Norwegian minister says country has ‘good control’ at Russian border

The queue of cars waiting to enter Norway at its northern border with Russia was reported to be long on Sunday, but Oslo said it has no immediate plans to shut the crossing.

Norwegian minister says country has ‘good control’ at Russian border

A total number of 295 people on Sunday entered Norway from Russia at the Storskog border crossing in northern county Finnmark, according to police figures reported by NTB. 174 crossed in the opposite direction.

Russia does not appear to have restricted its citizens from leaving for Norway, though rumours suggest Moscow could move to ban men of mobilisation age from leaving. Finland closed its border to tourists with Russian visas on Friday.

“We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said on Friday.

Norway can close its border with a few hours’ notice, according to the minister.

READ ALSO: Norway to boost security along border with Russia

But Mehl said following a meeting with police officials near the border on Sunday that she was satisfied with the current situation and that a complete closure was not immediately on the cards.

“It was a useful meeting. It is important for the government that we have good control of the border with Russia. We are now the only country in the Schengen zone with an open border to Russia. It is extra important for us that we have security around the border station at Storskog and the surrounding areas,” Mehl said to news wire NTB.

The minister stressed that the border would not be closed at the current time.

“Our position is that everyone who wants to apply for asylum in Norway has the right to do so,” she said.

The Storskog crossing on Norway’s almost 200-kilometre (120-mile) far northern border with Russia is now practically the only remaining point of entry into the Schengen area for Russians with tourist visas.

“Finland has restricted who can go there but there are still exceptions in their rules and the border is open for a small number. But it is important that we reassess this continually,” Mehl said.

Norway is not a member of the European Union but is part of the Schengen area, which all but stopped issuing Schengen tourist visas to Russians in May. But Russian holders of visas and residence permits issued by other European countries are able to cross into Norway to transit.

The earlier part of last week saw over 400 people enter Norway from Russia daily, according to NTB, but the number fell to between 100 and 200 in the second half of the week. The news wire reports that Russian nationals it spoke to on the Norwegian side of the border said there are still long queues of people on the Russian side, waiting to enter Norway.

Mehl said that full closure of the border by Norway would be a “drastic” measure.

“We have seen that the numbers have gone a little up and down in Norway but it is nowhere close to the numbers Finland has had,” she said.