21 Feb 2010

Dutch government collapses over Afghanistan

2:08 pm on 21 February 2010

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

NATO had requested an extension of the tour of the almost 2,000-strong Dutch contingent past August, the BBC reports.

In October, the Dutch parliament voted that the deployment must definitely end by August 2010, although the government of Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had yet to endorse that vote.

Labour, the second-largest coalition party, opposed extending the deployment.

Earlier this week, the finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise during marathon talks that continued into the early hours of Saturday, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Later, Mr Balkenende said there was no common ground and offered his cabinet's resignation to Queen Beatrix by telephone.

21 of the just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006 have died on duty.

NATO officials swiftly issued a message of reassurance about its operations in Afghanistan, but refused to comment on the internal politics of a member state.

A spokesman said the organisation would provide support to Afghans whatever happened.