OSLO, OCT. 29 -- Norway's center-right coalition government resigned today after its junior party refused to support closer ties to the European Community.
"I think it is deeply regrettable for the country," Prime Minister Jan P. Syse told national television moments after the small Center Party quit his three-party alliance.
Syse, a member of the Conservative Party, had hoped to form a minority government after his coalition split over Norway's position in talks between the EC and the six-nation European Free Trade Association, of which Norway is a member. The talks are to center on the creation of a joint economic region.
The Center Party, backed by farmers who fear that freer trade policies will result in a cut in subsidies, refused to back a single-party Conservative minority government. Center's leader, Anne Enger Lahnstein, said the dispute had moved beyond the trade issue and involved EC membership itself.
Syse, who supports joining the EC, said the issue was fundamental to his government. "A government must stand united in such a case, especially when it concerns protecting Norway's interests in international negotiations," Syse told Parliament as he announced the coalition's resignation.
Public disenchantment has increased due to tough austerity programs, intended to pull Norway's oil-dependent economy out of a four-year slump that has brought record unemployment.
Former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland is expected to form her third Labor Party administration -- Norway's sixth government since 1980. But no party holds a majority in the 165-seat Parliament. There is a slim rightist majority among the six major parties in Parliament, and no elections are legally possible for three more years.