Dutch PM-elect starts forming govt backed by anti-Islam MP

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dutch prime minister-elect Mark Rutte began forging his new cabinet on Friday after Queen Beatrix cleared him to form a government backed by anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

Rutte, who leads the rightist, pro-business VVD party that narrowly won June 9 general elections, first met his future vice-premier, Maxime Verhagen, who leads the Christian Democratic CDA at the start of a process which should end up with at the helm of a 20-member cabinet, a government statement said.

"Mr Rutte will meet 19 candidate cabinet members in the coming days," it added.

The new cabinet will comprise 12 ministers and eight deputies -- half from the VVD and half from the CDA. Verhagen will also be economic affairs minister.

Four months of coalition talks came to a close Thursday night when the monarch cleared Rutte to form a new cabinet, backed by the controversial Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV).

He said he hoped to complete the task by next Thursday.

Under a deal finalised between the three parties a week earlier, the PVV will remain outside of goverment but provide the support a minority VVD-CDA coalition will need to pass decisions through parliament. In return, he will get a say in policy-making.

Rutte will be the first premier of a Dutch party that labels itself liberal since 1918.

The last government, a CDA-led coalition under premier Jan Peter Balkenende, fell in February in a dispute over continued military support to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The parliamentary caucus of the CDA, deeply divided over cooperation with Wilders, finally gave the government deal the go-ahead on Tuesday after much internal wrangling.

Wilders, who campaigns for an end to Muslim immigration, a ban on the building of new mosques and a head scarf tax, went on trial in Amsterdam on Monday on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

The 47-year-old risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro (10,500-dollar) fine if convicted for describing Islam as "fascist" and its holy book, the Koran, as "the Islamic Mein Kampf".

In June, negotiators ruled out a leftist coalition involving the PvdA labour party, which came second in the elections with 30 seats.

© 2010 AFP

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