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Danish agriculture minister steps down over illegal mink order

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday faced opposition calls to resign after her agriculture minister stepped down over an illegal order by the government to cull the country’s farmed mink.

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The government is facing its biggest crisis yet during the coronavirus pandemic after it ordered the culling of all farmed mink earlier this month to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including a new mutated strain, but later admitted the order had no legal basis.

“I want the Prime Minister to do the same,” opposition leader Jakob Elleman-Jensen of The Liberal Party said, referring to the resignation of Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen earlier on Wednesday.

“I want the prime minister to acknowledge that when she makes a mistake, it’s her responsibility,” Elleman-Jensen said.

Two weeks ago, authorities drafted the military and police to help Denmark’s 1,100 mink farmers cull their 17 million mink, one of the world’s biggest populations of the animals, which are bred for their fur. Farmers said the move would end their business for good.

The government’s drastic decision came after health authorities said the mink industry posed a risk to public health in the country due to widespread outbreaks on farms, exacerbated by the find of a mutated virus strain, which it said could compromise the efficacy of future vaccines.

Elleman-Jensen was supported by other opposition parties, including the Danish People’s Party, while others wanted an independent investigation into the government’s actions to determine if the government knowingly broke the law.

The establishment of an independent inquiry would need the support of a majority in parliament, including party allies to the government.

Danes’ trust in the government has plummeted in the last weeks following the order, according to a study by Aarhus University, with just over half saying they trust the government in mid-November, down from a July high of more than 75%.

Mink on all farms known to have been infected have been culled, Danish authorities said on Wednesday, but a further 25 farms are still suspected of being infected.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Louise Heavens, Peter Graff and Alex Richardson

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