Dutch FM resigns triggering vote of no-confidence
THE HAGUE – Agence France-Presse
Prime Minister Mark Rutte overwhelmingly survived the vote brought by his arch-foe far-right politician Geert Wilders, with 101 MPs against and only 43 in favor.But the scandal has erupted in just a few days in the Netherlands, and threatens to undermine Rutte’s fledgling and fragile four-party coalition.
The drama came after Zijlstra admitted he had falsely claimed to have attended a 2006 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is by far the biggest mistake I have made in my career,” he told the lower house of parliament, adding tearfully that he had no option but to resign.
Rutte then found himself in the firing line, when MPs grilled him about why he had not informed parliament sooner after being told about Zijlstra’s deception on January 29.
They had been due to discuss among other things the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 shot down by a missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The tragedy in which all 298 people on board died, most of them Dutch, has soured ties and led to accusations that Moscow is not being truthful about the events.
A Dutch foreign ministry official told AFP that the Moscow “meeting will not go ahead, for obvious reasons” and they would try to look “at a later date.
He resigned after finally admitting that his long-held claim to have attended a 2006 meeting in Putin’s dacha, which included Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s former chief executive, was false.
“I have spoken about an incident of great importance, saying I was there in person, while that was not the case,” Zijlstra told MPs on Feb. 13.
“I wanted to tell this story convincingly without revealing my source, it was obviously the wrong choice. I should not have done it. I am sorry.”
The Russian embassy angrily waded into the scandal on Feb. 13, accusing the Dutch of spreading “fake news.”
“In the Netherlands, Russia is being blamed for disseminating disinformation. Dutch officials are constantly making such unfounded statements,” it said in a statement.
Trying to attribute to Russia “great-power ambitions and the desire to recreate ‘the Soviet Empire’ do not hold up,” the embassy added, saying such claims were “conceived in someone’s inflamed imagination.”
It was not immediately clear who would replace Zijlstra as the country’s top diplomat, although the Dutch ANP news agency said Trade and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag would take over some of his duties temporarily.