The Dutch news in January 2004

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Life moves quick and for those expats on the go, Expatica introduces a new feature summarising the most important Dutch news of the past month. This is what happened in the first four weeks of 2004.

1 January
New laws on smoking and healthcare come into force

Smokers have seen the flame of change

Important legal changes and price rises come into force in the Netherlands. The new anti-smoking law allows everyone the legal right to a "smoke-free workplace", with the exception specialist tobacco shops, international and foreign public transport and the café, bar and restaurants sector. Cuts to the public healthcare system, or ziekenfonds mean reimbursements for several treatments, including the contraceptive pill, dentistry and physiotherapy are no longer covered in the standard public healthcare insurance package. The New Year also heralded a major change to the regulations governing mortgages. When selling one property and purchasing another, the proceeds from the first house (price minus the mortgage and costs) will be subtracted from the amount to which you can deduct interest payments on the second house.

5 January
Dutchman takes helm at Nato

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer takes over as Nato Secretary General from Britain's Lord Robertson. One of his most important roles will be to heal the military alliance's wounds resulting from the internal conflict which opened up last year over Iraq. He will oversee the expansion of Nato by seven East European countries and is challenged by a larger role for Nato in Afghanistan and a possible role in Iraq.

6 January
Court orders release of marine

 Arnhem Court orders the release from detention of Dutch sergeant-major Erik O., 43, after ruling there is insufficient evidence to warrant a murder charge for the shooting death of a suspected Iraqi looter near the city of As Samawah in December. Politicians and military unions sharply criticised the arrest of the marine and the rules of violent military engagement issued to 1,100 Dutch peacekeeping troops in Iraq, but Defence Minister Henk Kamp refuses to modify the orders. The family of the Iraqi victim later reportedly demanded compensation from the Dutch government.

7 January
PM in secret visit to Dutch troops in Iraq

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende conducts a lightning visit to Dutch peacekeeping troops in Iraq and tries to restore morale among soldiers after the recent arrest of one of their colleagues on murder allegations. Balkenende arrives at nightfall in Iraq and stays four hours in the Dutch patrol region. Planning for the visit took place amid deep secrecy to ensure security.

13 January
Student shoots teacher dead

Hans van Wieren

Deputy headmaster Hans van Wieren is shot at the Terra College in The Hague at about 1.15pm. He dies in hospital at about 10pm, an hour after 17-year-old fugitive culprit Murat D. reports to police. Several of D's schoolmates show their support for him in a protest outside school grounds, while D. later confesses to the crime and Van Wieren is cremated in Rijswijk. The teacher is survived buy his wife and two daughters. Diverse organisations claim the shooting could not have been prevented, even with intensified security measures.  Three suspect student accomplices are arrested at the end of the month.

13 January
KLM agrees to armed sky marshals

Dutch airline KLM agrees to a six-month trial of armed guards on flights to and from the US. But the airline wins a guarantee that pilots will maintain control of the plane at all times. A group of military police sky marshals has already undergone training and the trial could start in February once the final details between KLM and the Justice Ministry are arranged. 

19 January
Alderman Oudkerk resigns over prostitution scandal

Rob Oudkerk

Alderman Rob Oudkerk resigns from his position on Amsterdam City Council following revelations he frequented a streetwalking zone for drug-addicted prostitutes. The decision was made public after Oudkerk, the city alderman in charge of education and social affairs policy, met with his Labour PvdA party colleagues. The issue came to light after the married, father of two told a female journalist about going to prostitutes and viewing sex sites on his official work computer. He has threatened legal action, but journalist Heleen van Royen denies she promised to withhold Oudkerk's name from her article in newspaper Het Parool.

19 January
Integration policy 'failed, migrants succeeded'

A large number of immigrants fully or at least partially integrated in the Netherlands despite the apparent failure of government integration policies. The Blok Commission studied the past 30 years of government integration policy and found that the success of integration is due to the migrants themselves and native Dutch. The report did not specifically label integration policies as a failure, but said integration took place "in spite of" rather then "thanks to" the policies of successive Dutch governments. But government coalition parties, the Liberal VVD and Christian Democrat CDA, as well as opposition parties the populist LPF and Socialist Party (SP) said the commission was wrong and that its report was weak. Main opposition party Labour PvdA and green-left GroenLinks also said the commission's recommendations were not hard enough.

20 January
Commandos return home from Iraq

Dutch commandos did not locate terrorists in their patrol region

Most of the detachment of 70 Dutch commandos dispatched to southern Iraq in December 2003 to monitor possible terrorist activities along the Saudi Arabian border return home to the Netherlands. The commandos were deployed after security concerns were raised about the 1,100 Dutch peacekeeping troops stationed in Iraq. But the special operations forces failed to detect any terrorist activities in their patrol region, the Defence Ministry said. The remaining 15 commandos will stay in Iraq for several more weeks to assist marines train Iraqi police. If the security situation degenerates in Iraq, the Dutch commandos can be quickly re-deployed.

21 January
Great balls of fire, it's a meteorite!

A large number of star gazers see a large fireball shoot through cloud cover in what experts believe was a meteorite falling to earth. It is seen in Limburg, eastern Belgium and Germany and base don information from Nasa, the Dutch Meteor Society (DMS) rules out the possibility that the fireball was a broken fragment of a satellite or a rocket. It is assumed that the meteorite burned up in the earth's atmosphere before hitting the ground.

22 January
Thai King pardons Dutch drug smugglers

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej grants a pardon to two Dutch drug smugglers as Foreign Minister Ben Bot confirms startling progress in talks aimed at signing a prisoner-exchange treaty. Accompanying Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem-Alexander on a State visit to Thailand, Minister Bot said a treaty — which could allow detainees return home to the Netherlands after serving eight years in the South East Asian nation — is within hands' reach. Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned the treatment of prisoners in Thailand. The two pardoned drug smugglers arrived home in Amsterdam on 24 January, while the most well-known Dutch detainee, Machiel Kuijt, could return home in next year.

23 January
Amnesty granted to 2,300 asylum seekers

The Netherlands grants residence permits to 2,300 long-term asylum seekers under a special amnesty programme, but thousands more are to be deported. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said she received 9,800 applications for the scheme, but most were not "distressing enough" to merit a residence permit. Due to a massive backlog in the immigration service (IND), thousands of people have been waiting for five years or more to have their asylum request assessed. Many have learned Dutch, fully integrated into society and have had children. The government is now preparing the deportation of 26,000 refugees, which will occur over a three-year period.

23 January
Sexual abuse possible motive in teacher stabbing

A 59-year-old teacher is stabbed at about 3pm at an Amsterdam West school and after underwent emergency surgery at the VU hospital. Latest reports have described him as being in a critical condition. A 35-year-old suspect was arrested and later claimed that he was sexually abused by the victim between 1975-80. The culprit was a former student of the Mgr. Hermusschool school, which teaches children with hearing and speaking difficulties.
27 January
Flooding fears after dike subsides

The subsided Stein dike

A 10m stretch of a dike along the Julianakanaal in Limburg subsides, forcing the evacuation of 543 residents from the nearby city of Stein and a temporary ban of shipping on the canal. But the Department of Public Works and Water Management later unmasks the leak on 29 January to be a broken pipe and residents are allowed to return home. But local water supply company Limburg WLM casts doubt on the department's findings, claiming instead that the subsidence could have broken the pipe. It demands an independent investigation.

28 January
Fortuyn killer transferred from isolation confinement

The convicted killer of politician Pim Fortuyn is transferred from isolation to a special wing of the Scheveningen prison where he can mix with other detainees under special security conditions. The transfer is based on advice from the Demersluis jail in Amsterdam, where Volkert van der Graaf, was serving out his sentence for the May 2002 assassination of Fortuyn. It is later claimed that Amsterdam co-detainees had placed a price on Van der Graaf's head and his life had been threatened several times.

29 January
Snowstorms delay flights, motorists

Passengers encounter 30-minute delays at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and motorists battle slippery and dangerous conditions as snowfalls are reported right across the Netherlands. By 8.30am there were 68 traffic jams with a total length of 571km, making it the second worst peak-hour in Dutch motoring history.

29 January
Actress Guusje Nederhorst dies

Guusje Nederhorst

Dutch singer and actress Guusje Nederhorst, 34, dies in her Scheveningen home of cancer. Nederhorst is survived by her partner, Kane lead-singer Dinand Woesthoff, 31, and their son Dean Maddy. The popular actress is best known for her role in Dutch soap opera Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden (Good Times, Bad Times). She also set up a band with actresses Babette van Veen and Katja Schuurman. The band, known as Linda Roos en Jessica, scored a couple of hit songs.

29 January
CDA opposes dual nationality

The Christian Democrat CDA party proposes scrapping the right of immigrants to hold two passports, claiming that it hinders integration. According to the CDA proposal, any foreigner who takes out Dutch citizenship must surrender the citizenship of their country of origin and hand in their old passport. About 65 percent of immigrants possess dual nationality and the government resolved in 1998 to reduce that number. But the scheme has never been re-evaluated and Sterk said the crackdown had obviously failed.

30 January
Dutch return to Kabul with Apaches

The Netherlands agrees to provide six Apache attack helicopters to the Nato-led ISAF security stabilisation force in Afghanistan. The six aircraft, plus 130 personnel, will be stationed for six months at the international airport in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The helicopters will be used by the international force for reconnaissance and escort duties. The Dutch and Germans shared joint command of ISAF in 2003 before handing control to Nato.

30 January
Insurgents attack Dutch embassy in Iraq

Several rockets are fired at the Dutch embassy in Iraq, but no injuries are reported because staff evacuated the building an hour earlier after a tip off. The embassy building is badly damaged in the attack and the resulting fire, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuses to withdraw diplomatic staff. MPs demand to know who was responsible for the attack, while the Defence Ministry says there is no cause to heighten security around the 1,100 Dutch peacekeeping troops stationed in the south of Iraq.

30 January 2004

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[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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