Press Review 2 June 2010

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Jan Peter Balkenende is probably spending his last week as Dutch prime minister, Dutch-based oil company Trafigura “threw toxic waste over the fence”, and small spiritual parties hope for an election miracle.   "Nutcases” versus “rogue state” Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza aid convoy is still generating the most column inches in today’s press. NRC Handelsblad and left-leaning de Volkskrant focus on the responses of “shame” and “dismay” among many Israelis. The rightwing De Telegraaf reports that a Dutch activist arrested on the convoy, now released, was a “senior figure in terrorist organisation Hamas” according to “intelligence agencies”.   AD presents the sharpest contrast of conflicting views in the Netherlands, with parallel columns by pro-Israeli writer Leon de Winter and pro-Palestinian campaigner Gretta Duisenberg.   Mr De Winter: “What do they mean Free Gaza? Gaza is free! They’ve sent an aid convoy to people who don’t need aid. Ridiculous. Forget those nutcases on the ships.”   Ms Duisenberg: “If you shut up rats in a small cage they will behave aggressively. Israel is a rogue state. There should be a war tribunal for the political leaders of Israel.”   PM Balkenende: last week at the helm? The election is still a week away but, this morning, the papers are already announcing the end of the Balkenende era. De Telegraaf leads with reports that caretaker Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrat party, the CDA, is already gearing up for an inevitable defeat. “CDA throws in the towel” runs the headline. With the Christian Democrats trailing a poor third in the polls, the party is “preparing for a Balkenende-less era”, as de Volkskrant puts it.   De Telegraaf’s “insiders” say the CDA is already looking around for a new leader. Mr Balkenende has made it clear he’s only “going for gold” – if he doesn’t make it to become prime minister again, he’ll bow out as party chief.   Nevertheless, in what’s likely to be his last week as a political leader, and despite having presided over four collapsed governments, Mr Balkenende tells Protestant daily Trouw he’s just as enthusiastic as when he headed his first cabinet in 2002. And the popular AD at least has some good news for the prime minister. A website with children’s colouring pictures has been featuring portraits of the party leaders in the run up to the election – and Mr Balkenende apparently leads the field as the Netherlands’ most coloured-in politician.   Small parties hope for a miracle De Volkskrant turns the spotlight on the forgotten players in the election, profiling seven small parties “hoping for an election miracle” to win their first couple of seats in parliament. Spirituality is a popular theme. The Party for Humanity and Spirit strives for “politics based on modern spiritual principles”. De Volkskrant describes an election meeting – “two dozen floating voters, ready to be converted: Somethingists, new-agers, strangers in a world of market forces and conflict”.   New Netherlands is also a “spiritual party” but with a “realistic approach”, while the Whole Netherlands party has a “holistic message” and stands up for “the mothers in our society”. Other contenders have more prosaic manifestos, like the international Pirate Party, campaigning for copyright reform, or the young people’s party List 17, launched as an experiment by youth TV channel BNN. But as de Volkskrant points out, all these political dreamers have one thing in common: they stand to lose their 11,250-euro deposit.   Trafigura trial opens Trafigura “threw chemical waste over the fence into a Third World country to save expense”, both Trouw and AD quote the prosecutor at the opening of an Amsterdam court case against the Dutch-based oil firm. The trial is the latest episode in the Probo Koala affair, the cargo ship carrying toxic waste which was dumped on a rubbish tip in Ivory Coast, poisoning local residents.   First in the firing line is the company that produced the waste, Trafigura. But NRC Handelsblad reports that the justice ministry is also pointing the finger at Amsterdam city council and waste disposal company Amsterdam Port Services APS. When the Probo Koala turned up in Amsterdam and handed its waste over to APS for processing, it kept quiet about the lethal toxicity – an offence that could land the ship’s captain with a 15-year jail sentence. But the public prosecutor’s sights are also set on APS, which simply pumped the waste back into the Probo Koala when it realised how toxic it was. And Amsterdam City Council, which blithely let the ship sail away again, bound for Ivory Coast.   Netherlands to get higher AD reports that the Netherlands’ highest hill is soon to move across the Atlantic. From October, the highest point in the Netherlands will officially be Mount Scenery on the tiny Caribbean island of Saba. On 10-10-2010 the island will become part of the Netherlands, as an ‘exceptional municipality’.  

Visitors to the 877-metre Mount Scenery apparently receive a certificate if they make it to the top. The slumbering volcano “deposes the Vaalser Berg,” a hill in the southern province of Limburg, “at a height of ‘only’ 322 metres”. Note the inverted commas around ‘only’ – to the Dutch, 322 metres is still pretty spectacular. 

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