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As support sags, Danish prime minister calls Nov. 1 election

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Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen gives a press conference in front of Marienborg in Copenhagen, Denmark Wednesday Oct. 5, 2022. Denmark's Prime Minister has announced a General Election to be held at November 1, 2022. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday called a general election for Nov. 1, seven months ahead of the end of her term in office.

Frederiksen, who has headed a minority government since June 2019, has seen her popularity dwindle due to her role in a pandemic-related decision to wipe out Denmark's captive mink population.

The early parliamentary election will select members of the 179-seat Folketing. Polls show the center-left bloc led by her Social Democratic Party is neck-and-neck with the center-right opposition, which includes parties that want to reduce immigration.

“We want a broad government with parties on both sides of the political middle,” Frederiksen said as she announced the election. She admitted that “it is, of course, peculiar to have a general election in the middle of an international crisis.”

In June, a Danish Parliament-appointed commission harshly criticized Frederiksen's government for its decision to cull millions of healthy mink at the height of the coronavirus pandemic to protect humans from a mutation of the virus.

Frederiksen became Denmark’s youngest prime minister when she took office at age 41. She reached out to other political parties, including the opposition, to help steer the Scandinavian country through the COVID-19 pandemic and later teamed up with the opposition to hike Danish defense spending in the wake of Russian's invasion of Ukraine.

She has spoken openly recently about governing with some of the parties that are part of the center-right opposition. Frederiksen said Wednesday that a broad government with the some of the opposition parties "will get us through uncertain times.”

Frederiksen has insisted that she didn’t know the mink culling decision was unlawful, saying it was “based on a very serious risk assessment.” A law was passed shortly after to make it legal.

After the report on the mink culling was published, one of the government’s center-left allies, the Social Liberal Party, stood up against Frederiksen and criticized her handling of the issue.

That party, which holds 14 seats in the Folketing, had threatened to seek a confidence vote unless Frederiksen called early elections before parliament reopens after the summer recess on Oct. 6. However, the Social Liberal Party has said it will support Frederiksen in any new government and not join the center-right opposition.

The culling of up to 17 million animals was ordered in 2020 after a mutated version of the coronavirus was found in farms in northern Denmark and infected 11 people. Although there was no evidence that the mutated version was more dangerous, the government said it moved proactively.

Denmark was one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, producing an estimated 17 million furs per year. Kopenhagen Fur, a cooperative of 1,500 Danish breeders, accounts for 40% of global mink production. Most of its exports went to China and Hong Kong.

A poll published Monday gave 50% support for the center-left and 47.8% for the opposition. In the middle is a new party created by former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who has declined to say which side he would support.

The survey by pollster Voxmeter was based on telephone interviews of 1,001 people over the age of 18 and was carried out Sept. 26- Oct. 2. The margin of error was 2.7 percentage points.

Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press