Red roses and boos for Norway's youngest PM

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The Independent Online

Jens Stoltenberg took office as Norway's youngest prime minister yesterday, after his Labour party helped bring down a minority coalition in an environmental dispute.

"I am humbled and a little overwhelmed," said the premier, who turned 41 on Thursday, as he was greeted with red roses and hundreds of cheering supporters as well as booing environmental protesters, outside the Royal Palace in Oslo.

The previous government, led by the Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik, resigned last week amid a dispute over its refusal to weaken pollution laws to allow a natural gas power plant to be built.

The new social democratic administration is packed withparty veterans, including theparty leader and former prime minister Thorbjoern Jagland, who is now foreign minister.

Eight of the 19-member government are women, in keeping with national policy. It also has an average age of 41.

Mr Bondevik's three-party coalition resigned after losing a vote of confidence over its demand that parliament promise not to weaken Norway's strict environmental laws. "It's a little sad," he said after King Harald V accepted his government's resignation. "But it was a good cause to resign over."

Mr Bondevik says a switch to burning more fossil fuel iswrong for a country that generates most of its energy from hydro-power. Mr Stoltenberg argues that Norway needs the gas plants to replace imports of electricity from dirtier coal-fired plants in Denmark.

The issue has split the nation and the Mr Stoltenberg's party, leading to a decline in support for the Labour party. In a pollyesterday, it had fallen by 4.7 per cent to 30.2 per cent. The Christian Democrats gained 6.7 per cent to reach 17.1 per cent.

Dozens of anti-gas power demonstrators were waiting for Mr Stoltenberg when he emerged from the palace.

The new government will have just 65 seats in the 165-member assembly. None of the other six parties in parliament has promised to support it.