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Norway's government could fall as majority seek ouster of Sylvi Listhaug

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Norway's government could fall as majority seek ouster of Sylvi Listhaug
Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide speaks to media on Monday. Photo: Ørn Borgen / NTB scanpix
07:35 CET+01:00
Norway's Christian Democrats on Monday refused to back Justice Minster Sylvi Listhaug after she triggered outrage with a controversial Facebook post, a move that could end up toppling the minority government.

The refusal means a majority in parliament are in favour of a vote of no-confidence to be held on Tuesday against Listhaug, of the anti-immigration Progress Party, a member of the three-party right-wing coalition.

In a Facebook post on March 9th, Listhaug accused the opposition Labour Party, which was targeted by rightwing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in a 2011 massacre, of favouring the rights of terrorists over national security.

Although Listhaug eventually removed the post and apologised in parliament, a motion of no confidence against her gained the support of all parties in Norway's opposition, leaving her fate as justice minister potentially in the hands of the one remaining non-coalition party, the centre-right Christian Democrats.

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 on Thursday.

She was also criticised for posting on social media a photo and message expressing her thanks for flowers she received at the Ministry of Justice from supporters. Posts were found on extremist far-right Facebook groups encouraging members to send flowers.

"I am not going to apologise for receiving flowers. I completely reject people who are neo-Nazis or support racism. I have done that many times. But I am not going to apologise for receiving flowers. When I opened the flowers and read the cards, they were from people who are open about supporting the Progress Party, support other parties, are from local societies and people all over the country," the minister told newspaper VG in a written message.

The motion of no confidence will be voted on in parliament on Tuesday.

The stakes are high -- Prime Minister Erna Solberg's entire government hangs in the balance. Solberg has said that if there is a majority against Listhaug, she will call a vote of confidence (kabinettsspørsmål in Norwegian) in the entire government.

"The national committee of the Christian Democrats has indicated that it does not have confidence in Listhaug," party leader Knut Arild Hareide said after the Christian Democrats concluded their meeting.

"It therefore asks Erna Solberg to take measures to avoid the vote of no-confidence tomorrow," he added.

He was referring to the possibility of moving Listhaug to another cabinet post, an option that Solberg has excluded so far, according to media reports.

Listhaug's resignation is largely seen as unlikely, but other possibilities do exist. The Christian Democrats could decide to ultimately vote against the no-confidence motion, after having pushed the question to the limit to get Listhaug to resign.

If the government were to fall, Norway could hold new elections, or either Solberg or Jonas Gahr Støre, the head of the opposition, would simply be asked to form a new government.

The Christian Democrats generally support the centre-right government, but the small party has had issues with Listhaug in the past.

Listhaug is controversial but enjoys support from her party's populist wing.

In the March 9th Facebook post, which contained a photo of al-Shabaab militants, she accused Labour of considering that "the rights of terrorists are more important than the security of the nation".

She was criticising Labour's opposition to a proposal to strip the citizenship of Norwegians who pose a threat to the nation's vital interests, without a court order.

Labour members were the main victims of the bloodiest attacks on Norwegian soil since the Second World War when, on July 22nd, 2011, Breivik, who once was a member of the Progress Party, killed 77 people in twin attacks: one targeting then Labour prime minister Jens Stoltenberg's office in Oslo and another against a Labour youth camp on the island of Utøya.

Faced with strong criticism, notably by survivors of the attacks, Listhaug finally removed the post five days after it was published, citing rights issues prohibiting the use of the al-Shabaab photo.

On Thursday, she apologised to parliament, a move that did not satisfy the opposition.

READ ALSO: Sylvi Listhaug cancels Svalbard trip as no confidence motion gains momentum

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