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Sylvi Listhaug cancels Svalbard trip as no confidence motion gains momentum

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Sylvi Listhaug cancels Svalbard trip as no confidence motion gains momentum
Sylvi Listhaug in parliament on Thursday. Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix
14:48 CET+01:00
Norway's justice minister Sylvi Listhaug has cancelled a visit to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard after several parties moved to support a motion of no confidence against her.

The minister's job looks to be under threat in the wake of a controversial social media post in which she accused the opposition Labour party of considering "the rights of terrorists (to be) more important than the security of the nation".

Listhaug, whose party is a member of a centre-right coalition, was angry at Labour's rejection of a proposal to strip jihadists of their Norwegian citizenship without a court decision.

The post, which contained a photo showing Al-Shabab militants, sparked outrage because Labour members were targeted by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik in 2011 in the worst attack on Norwegian soil since the end of the Second World War.

READ ALSO: Justice minister Sylvi Listhaug removes Facebook post after scandal

A motion of no confidence forwarded by the far-left Red Party over the issue will be voted on in parliament on March 20th, news agency NTB reports. That has led Listhaug to cancel the Svalbard visit, the Ministry of Justice confirmed.

The decision comes as the Centre Party confirmed it would vote in favour of the motion of no confidence.

“It is now (Prime Minister) Erna Solberg who has the key. She has a few days to think about this. It would be better for everyone if there wasn't a vote of no confidence on Tuesday. But we cannot support Sylvi Listhaug as Minister of Justice in light of how this situation has developed,” Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum told NRK.

The controversial post remained on Listhaug's Facebook page for six days before eventually being removed on Wednesday. The minister said she removed it because she did not have rights to the image of Al-Shabab militants that was used in the graphic.

Hours after Listhaug withdrew her post, Prime Minister Erna Solberg issued an apology on behalf of her government.

The PM had earlier faced criticism for not voicing unequivocal disapproval of her minister.

"On behalf of the government ... I wish to present my apologies because the rhetoric used by the government hurt people," Solberg, a conservative, told reporters.

On Thursday, Listhaug apologised for the post during a parliamentary session, saying ‘sorry' eight times in response to questions from Conservative minister for local government Jan Tore Sanner.

“I wish to say ‘sorry' to those who feel hurt by the communication in this case,” the justice minister said initially from the speaker's booth at the Stortinget parliament.

“It was never my intention that this should be linked to the gruesome massacre at Utøya. It was not my intention to hurt anyone and I hope that will be believed,” she added.

After being further pressured to apologise for the content of her post, rather than for an error in communication, Listhaug eventually added a further clause to her apology.

“Of course it's not the case that Labour wants to threaten the nation's security. All parties in parliament want to fight terror. Sometimes we disagree about the method. My unconditional apology [for the post] also includes an apology for the content,” she said according to NRK's report.

Both Labour and the Centre Party are reported to have decided to move against Listhaug after seeing the way the apology was made, NRK writes.

She was asked for an apology on eight occasions and came to the speaker's stand four times during the session.

The Centre Party announcement means that they join Labour, the Socialist Left and Green parties in backing the Red Party motion of no confidence.

That means Listhaug's fate as justice minister rests on the decision of the one remaining non-coalition party, the centre-right Christian Democrats. The leadership of that party will resolve its position on Monday, VG reports.

Solberg told broadcaster NRK that the question of how the government will deal with the motion will be answered in parliament.

“The comment I have is that Jan Tore Sanner made an apology on behalf of the entire government yesterday. Sylvi Listhaug gave a clear and concise apology, and as such I think I should answer further questions on that, first and foremost in parliament,” the PM said.

READ ALSO: Norway's justice minister causes anger with 'rights of terrorists' Facebook post aimed at rivals

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