Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan troops

The Dutch coalition government has collapsed over “irreconcilable differences” between the two largest parties over Afghanistan troop deployments.

Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende

According to prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the Labour Party, the second largest party in the government after the ruling Christian Democratic party, was resigning from the government, effective immediately.

Balkenende said, “You could see from the last few days that we couldn’t come up with an agreement.” He added, “Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further.”

The split occurred after 16 hours of talks over the future of the Dutch presence in the Afghanistan War, which ended early Saturday. While the Christian Democratic Party supported keeping a reduced military presence in the Uruzgan Province, the Labour Party demanded the immediate return of all Dutch troops in August.

With the resignation of the Labour Party, the Christian Democratic Party is left with an unworkable majority in the government. While Prime Minister Balkenende made little mention of the future of the government, saying only that the remaining two parties would continue in office, with the Labour Party’s seats being “made available.”

According to the leader of the Labour party, Wouter Bos, the third party in the Dutch government, the Christian Union Party, would also resign its seats along with the Labour Party’s seats when he offered the resignation of the party to Queen Beatrix later on Saturday. Despite Balkenede’s statements, political analysts said that early elections seemed inevitable, despite a year remaining in the current term.

Dutch troops were deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, and were originally intended to return in 2008, but were forced to remain as no other nation was willing to provide replacement troops. Under the new commitment signed in 2008, Dutch troops were to return in August, a stance reinforced by a Dutch courts’ ruling in October 2009 requiring that all troops return by that time, although that ruling has yet to be ratified by the government.

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