Justice minister makes noisy return to work

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Justice Minister Knut Storberget ended four weeks of sick leave on Monday and wasted no time in blasting his opponents. Some labour leaders are asking both Storberget and police officers to tone down their conflict.

Storberget, who collapsed at his home in late February, seemed eager to dive back into battle as soon as he returned to work Monday. He called in reporters for a breakfast meeting and immediately lashed out at both the police union, which marched in the streets of Oslo last week, and at the head of the Conservative Party, which has criticized Storberget’s handling of police issues.

“It’s irresponsible of the Conservatives to throw themselves into a campaign that (the police union) has started to get higher pay,” Storberget told newspaper Aftenposten. “The Conservatives are creating unease among the people, with no need. I hadn’t expected that of them.”

Storberget has been at the center of several controversies since last autumn, many involving his role as head of Norway’s state police force. Last week several thousand police officers demonstrated in uniform, demanding more control over scheduled off-duty time. The police have also refused to work overtime, protesting the short-staffing that makes overtime necessary.

Erna Solberg, the head of the Conservatives, has accused the Labour-led government in which Storberget sits of failing to provide adequate support for the police. She has noted that drugs are flowing into Norway and it’s getting more and more difficult to mount a sufficient police response.

Storberget retorts that the current government has provided more than NOK 2 billion in extra funding to the police, who he claims now are simply trying to boost their pay.

A leading law professor, Henning Jakhelln, has said that last week’s police protest in Oslo was illegal.

Storberget, meanwhile, was refusing to release more details behind another controversy this winter that led to his ministry indicating that it would soon change police uniforms to allow use of religious headscarves. He later retreated, saying a press release on the subject was issued by mistake.

See related story:Justice minister still on sick leave