Pressure grows on justice minister

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Justice Minister Anders Anundsen is under fire on a variety of fronts, with even members of the government’s own support parties now joining calls for him to be replaced. Others claim that if the support parties succeed in demanding his resignation, the entire government may fall.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen (right) is under fire and calls are rising for Prime Minister Erna Solberg (left) to replace him. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen (right) is under fire, with calls rising for Prime Minister Erna Solberg (left) to replace him. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Anundsen has been at the center of criticism on a wide variety of issues, from Norway’s questionable terror preparedness to immigration and asylum conflicts. Like several justice ministers before him, he has failed to deport Islamic cleric Mullah Krekar, who’s deemed a threat to national security, while allowing police to deport the children of rejected asylum seekers despite a government agreement that they be allowed to stay in Norway.

The latter, called the “asylbarna” issue, landed Anundsen, from the conservative Progress Party, in front of the parliament’s investigative and disciplinary committee just before the weekend. His performance there led to a grassroots movement that’s resulted in several declarations of a lack of confidence in him.

‘Burden on the government’
“I personally believe that Prime Minister Erna Solberg should replace him,” said Rebekka Borsch, a member of the national board of the Liberal Party (Venstre), which along with the Christian Democrats party has a support agreement with the minority government to give it a majority in Parliament. Borsch, who also is the leader of the Liberal’s chapter in Buskerud County, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday that “there have been too many blunders and too many serious mistakes” made under Anundsen’s leadership of the Justice Ministry since the government parties won national elections in September 2013.

Borsch called Anundsen “a burden on the government,” adding that he had let both the Liberal and the Christian Democrats down by not following up their agreement to halt deportations of rejected refugees with children who had been in Norway for several years.

Borsch, who claimed Anundsen “shirked responsibility” for the deportation of asylum children when he appeared at the committee hearing on Friday, is not alone in her criticism. The Hordaland County chapter of the Liberals also has expressed a lack of confidence in Anundsen, while the Rogaland and Troms county chapters have expressed “deep dissatisfaction.” There’s also frustration within the ranks of the Christian Democrats.

“Nothing that’s come forward has indicated that Anundsen did anything in writing to follow through on the asylum children agreement,” Lars Salvesen of the Christian Democrats’ Akershus chapter told news bureau NTB. “He’s blaming subordinate state agencies (for the deportations of children that violated the agreement). I don’t understand how he can have our confidence after this.” Salvesen’s party colleagues in the counties of Nordland and Sogn og Fjordane agreed.

Tougher on crime
The grassroots movement against Anundsen comes despite his efforts to carry out other policies to get tougher on crime that swept the minority government into office 16 months ago. While he has failed to deport Krekar, for example, his efforts to confine Krekar upon his recent release from prison won court support pending appeal. Anundsen has also managed to deport more foreign criminals than ever before, to overcome a jail cell shortage in Norway by building more prisons and arranging to send convicts to prisons in the Netherlands, to allow the arming of police because of high terror threat levels and to start work on better enforcing animal protection laws. Anundsen has also set up a new police unit to relaunch investigations into old unsolved crimes and unveiled a 30-point plan to combat radicalization and violent extremism.

In short, Anundsen has made strides in being tougher on crime in Norway, but also on immigration, and that’s what’s upset the support parties that thought they’d extracted a compromise to halt deportations of asylum children who view Norway as their home. Anundsen has also been criticized for refusing to answer questions from both the media and opposition politicians in parliament. He has earlier blamed the disputed deportations on a “misunderstanding” between himself and the police, who are responsible for carrying out deportations.

He was defended on Monday by party fellow Christian Tybring-Gjedde, known for being tough on immigration, who told newspaper Klassekampen that an effort to unseat Anundsen could prompt the entire government to resign. Anundsen himself has characterized the movement against him as “sad” but would only respond in writing to questions from state broadcaster NRK over the weekend.

“The county chapters are of course free to believe what they like and pass what measures they like,” Anundsen wrote. “There’s little I can do about that, but I believe our cooperation agreement (with the Liberals and Christian Democrats) has been fulfilled.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund