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By Stine Jacobsen
OSLO, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg replaced the ministers for energy, EU affairs and justice in her right-wing government on Tuesday in a reshuffle nine months before the next general election.
The minority government of Solberg’s Conservatives and the anti-immigration Progress Party has lagged the centre-left opposition in recent opinion polls.
Solberg said that the three ministers quitting the cabinet had wanted to leave for personal reasons.
Oil Minister Tord Lien of the right-wing Progress party will stand down in favour of Terje Soeviknes, a popular small-town mayor.
Lien “has been a driving force for a continued high tempo of oil and gas off Norway, at the same time as developing renewable energy,” Solberg told a news conference.
Norway is western Europe’s top producer of oil and natural gas, and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy manages the government’s majority stake in Statoil.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party was replaced by Per-Willy Amundsen, until now a junior minister. EU Affairs Minister Elisabeth Aspaker of the Conservative Party will be replaced by Frank Bakke-Jensen of the same party.
Two small centrist parties, which support Solberg’s minority government in parliament, criticised the appointments as a step to the right.
“This is not an invitation to the centre, perhaps the opposite,” said centrist Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide.
Trine Skei Grande, head of the centrist Liberal Party, said that the Progress Party appointments would add a dose of scepticism about man-made climate change to the government.
Solberg rejected the criticisms, saying the reshuffle “does not change the political foundations of the government”.
She said the government agreed with mainstream scientific findings that climate change is mainly man-made. (Reporting by Stine Jacobsen and Alister Doyle; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)