End of the road for Dutch Antilles

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The Dutch Antilles will stop existing from Sunday when two of its islands become independent states in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and three become Dutch municipalities under a pact concluded last month.

Until now, the Netherlands and its former colonies, the five-island Antilles and the neighbouring Caribbean isle of Aruba, were independent member countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

But under the new deal, the Antillean islands of Curacao and St Maarten will become independent states in the Kingdom, while Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius will become Dutch municipalities

"After midnight on Saturday, the country known as the Dutch Antilles will no longer exist," Dutch interior ministry spokesman Thijs Manten told AFP.

"The composition of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will change."

From Sunday, the kingdom will consist of the Netherlands, Aruba and the two largest ex-Antillean islands: Curacao with about 150,000 inhabitants and St Maarten with about 40,000

The islands of Bonaire, Saba, and St Eustatius, with less than 20,000 inhabitants between them, will become special-status Dutch municipalities.

The changes reflect the wishes of a majority of voters in referenda held on the islands, leading to the signing of a final pact by the Antilles, the Netherlands and Aruba on September 9.

Curacao and St Maarten will each have their own parliament, government, prime minister and currency: the guilder.

Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius will switch to the US dollar and have "island councils" akin to municipal councils. Their inhabitants will vote for the national Dutch government.

The three new municipalities will have to adopt many Dutch laws. The most contentious among them, allowing for abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia, will be systematically adopted over a period of two years, said Manten.

"The big benefit of all this is that a country that did not function properly (the Antilles) will stop existing," he added. "It will free the islands from a lot of debt and allow them to make a fresh start, creating space for new policy formulation and spending on things like health and education."

Under the deal, the Dutch government would take over 70 percent of the debt of the Antilles, estimated at some 1.7 billion euros (2.4 billion dollars).

© 2010 AFP

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