Norwegian PM fined by police over coronavirus rules violation

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Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg visits troops of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Pabrade, Lithuania September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

OSLO, April 9 (Reuters) - Norwegian police said on Friday they have fined Prime Minister Erna Solberg for breaking COVID-19 social-distancing rules when she organised a family gathering to celebrate her birthday.

The fine is for 20,000 Norwegian crowns ($2,352), police chief Ole Saeverud told a news conference.

The matter came to light in a report by Norway's public broadcaster NRK, which triggered the police investigation.

The two-term premierhas apologised several times for organising the event for her 60th birthday with 13 relativesat a mountain resort in late February, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

On Friday, Solberg said she would pay the fine.

"I'd like to say again that I'm sorry for breaking the coronavirus rules," she told Norway's TV2 News.

"I will accept the fine, and pay it."

While police would not have issued a fine in most such cases, they said the prime minister has been at the forefront of the government's work to impose restrictions.

"Though the law is the same for all, all are not equal in front of the law," said Saeverud, justifying the fine. "It is therefore correct to issue a fine in order to uphold the general public's trust in the rules on social restrictions."

Police said Solberg and her husband, Sindre Finnes, made the decision together to hold a celebration and picked the restaurant, with Finnes taking care of the practical arrangements.

Though police said he had broken the law as well, he was not fined. The restaurant where the celebration took place was also found to have violated the law but not penalised.

"Solberg is the country's leader and she has been at the forefront of the restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the virus," said Saeverud.

Solberg, who faces elections for parliament in September, has championed strict rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus, resulting in some of Europe's lowest rates of infection and deaths.

But Norway saw a rapid rise in infections in the first quarter of 2021, led by more contagious variants of the virus, forcing the government to tighten restrictions in late March.

($1 = 8.5029 Norwegian crowns)

Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche

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Thomson Reuters

Oversees news coverage from Norway for Reuters and loves flying to Svalbard in the Arctic, oil platforms in the North Sea, and guessing who is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in France and with Reuters since 2010, she has worked for The Guardian, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera English, among others, and speaks four languages.