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Dutch government falls over Afghan military mission

The Hague – Jan Peter Balkenende made the announcement after more than 16 hours of talks failed to save his three-year-old centre-left coalition, the fourth Dutch government to crumble since 2002.

“Later today, I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the (12) ministers and deputy ministers of the (Labour Party) PvdA,” a junior coalition partner, the prime minister told journalists in The Hague.

He said he would also “make available” the 12 cabinet positions of his own Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the majority partner, as well as the three held by the smaller Christian Union (CU).

Parliamentary elections, scheduled for March next year, will now have to be brought forward with polls predicting Balkenende’s CDA and the Labour Party to lose about seven seats and 13 seats respectively in the 150-seat assembly.

The CDA currently holds 41 seats and the PvdA 33.

“Elections are likely to be held before the summer, by June at the latest,” home affairs ministry spokesman Vincent van Steen told AFP.

He said head of state Queen Beatrix will consult her advisers on how to proceed. CDA and CU ministers will likely take over those portfolios held by the PvdA until a new government is formed.

In the latest in a string of coalition rows, vice-premier Wouter Bos angered his cabinet colleagues this week by saying the PvdA would not support extending the Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010, even as the other coalition parties insisted the matter was still under discussion.

In a snap parliamentary debate Thursday, MPs accused Bos of using the unpopular Afghanistan deployment for political gain ahead of 3 March municipal elections.

“As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no fruitful path for the CDA, PvdA and Christian Union to take into the future,” Balkenende said on Saturday.

“For days we have seen that unity has been affected by … statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions. These statements place a political mortgage on collegial deliberation.”

NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year longer than planned.

The request had required unanimous cabinet approval.

Deputy defence minister and CDA member Jack De Vries said the future of the mission now “depends on what the new government will decide”.

“For 16 hours we tried to find a solution,” added CDA foreign minister Maxime Verhagen. “I regret the fact that the will was lacking to consider all the options.”

Bos, who is finance minister as well as vice-premier, said “no good reason” for an extension of the mission has been forthcoming in the coalition talks and that he hoped for speedy elections.

“Under the circumstances, the PvdA could no longer credibly form part of this cabinet,” Bos argued.

Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, where opium production is high, under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers’ lives.

This was Balkenende’s fourth government in a row in eight years. All have collapsed before their mandate expired.

“Through a protracted build-up of mistrust, the cabinet was no longer governing, strife was governing,” reacted Agnes Kant, leader of the main opposition Socialist Party.

“The cabinet has lost all credibility.”

Populist, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, whose PVV party is making strong gains in the polls, said he was “delighted” at the cabinet collapse.

“The worst cabinet ever did not deserve to govern for another day,” he said.

AFP/ Mariette le Roux/ Expatica