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Pechtold calls for five-way ‘coalition of the unwilling’ to shut out ChristenUnie

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – D66 leader Alexander Pechtold has proposed a five-way coalition with the Socialists and Labour as politicians look to restart talks to form the next Dutch government.

Pechtold admitted that the combination, which also includes the right-wing Liberal (VVD) and Christian Democrat (CDA) parties, was his ‘fourth choice’, but said it would give the cabinet a majority in both houses.

The liberal democrat D66 group has strong reservations about forming a coalition with the Christian Union (CU) because of their diametrically opposed stances on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide.

During the election campaign CU leader Gert-Jan Segers attacked a D66 plan to allow people over the age of 75 to seek help ending their lives if they felt they were ‘finished’.

Lead negotiator Edith Schippers held exploratory talks with seven party leaders on Monday to gauge their views on possible coalitions. VVD, CDA and D66 spent 18 days negotiating with the left-wing green party GroenLinks but the talks broke down over immigration, climate change and closing the income gap.

The CU is seen as the most straightforward replacement, but would give the coalition only the smallest possible majority in both houses. Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said he sees little difference between the party’s policies and GroenLinks on the crucial issues of immigration and green energy.

Rutte, who is expected to stay on as prime minister in the new government, said on Monday he favours a ‘four-party cabinet with a stable majority in both houses’, with either the CU, the Socialist Party or Labour (PvdA).

However, Socialist leader Emile Roemer last week said he would not go into a government led by the VVD and called instead for a six-party block headed by the Christian Democrats – a scenario CDA leader Sybrand Buma has already ruled out. Buma also poured cold water on Pechtold’s proposed five-way deal.

Emerging from his meeting with Schippers, he said a four-party majority cabinet was ‘complicated enough.’ Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher also reaffirmed on Monday that his party would play no part in the next government.

The party formed the last cabinet with the VVD but slumped from 38 seats to nine in the election two months ago. ‘The election result was clear. We took a huge hit,’ Asscher wrote in an open letter to party members.

He went on: ‘The inherent differences between our manifesto and those of the VVD, CDA and D66 are huge… It is an illusion that we could achieve more with this line-up.’ (DutchNews)

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Teachers and pool staff in court over death of girl during swimming lesson

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Two teachers and three pool staff have appeared in court after a nine-year-old Syrian girl drowned during a swimming lesson.

The girl, named Salam, was found dead in the deep end of the pool at the end of a lesson in Rhenen, in Utrecht province in September 2015. She had only been in the Netherlands a few months and communicated with gestures, the court in Utrecht was told.

Salam used flotation aids during the lesson, but a pool attendant told the court he had removed them for the ‘free swim’ session at the end so she could stand upright in the water.

He said he had instructed her not to leave the shallow end of the pool. Three children in the class, including Salam, had not passed their swimming certificates, but the pool attendants were not aware which ones they were.

The court also heard that the swimming instructor did not warn his colleagues not to let the girl go into the deep water. All five suspects in the case were asked why there was no extra supervision in place for Salam even though she could not swim or speak Dutch.

The two teachers said they had supervised the class of around 30 as a group, but only noticed Salam was missing when they counted the children in the changing room afterwards. (DutchNews)

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It’s only May, but Amstelveen is grappling with Zwarte Piet

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The committee which organises the annual Sinterklaas procession in Amstelveen has resigned en masse because the members don’t agree with making changes to the character of Zwarte Piet, the Parool said on Friday.

The council executive has told town councillors that despite meetings over several years, the committee has refused to budge. The town council itself had called for the introduction of other types of Piet in the annual parade in addition to the traditional black face version three years ago.

‘In Amstelveen we believe in upholding our traditions but we also think it is important that everyone feels acknowledged and welcome,’ the executive committee said in a briefing to councillors.

The chairman of the Sinterklaas committee told local broadcaster RTVA that they want to keep the event traditional. ‘It is about the magic of a children’s party,’ Harry Tros said. ‘Piets with soot smudges are easily recognizable as Uncle Wim or the next door neighbour.

And because so many of our Piets come from Amstelveen, a lot of children will recognize them.’ Tros also said that problems with the licencing for the parade is another major reason the committee has resigned. (DutchNews)

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The sun has got his hat on – have you? Skin cancer on rise in the Netherlands

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The sun has got his hat on, but have you? The number of people with aggressive skin cancer has continued to rise, reports the Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organisation IKNL on Friday.

On Saturday, it will hold the fifth national skin cancer day to offer free checks and bring together patient associations, doctors and other experts. The organisation reports that in the last 15 years, the numbers of Dutch people with melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, has risen dramatically from 1554 in 1990 to 5887 in 2015.

One in five Dutch people is expected to get some form of skin cancer, making it one of the most common forms of cancer in the Netherlands. Most diagnosed cases are curable, and in 2014 there were 53,000 skin cancer patients recently registered – as many as all new breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer together. But, the organisation warns, specialists fear this is the ‘tip of the iceberg’, due to a change in behaviour.

Chronic sun exposure due to outdoor work has decreased, but short, intense doses have increased with modern holidays, sunbathing and the use of tanning beds.

Tomorrow, people who have enrolled in advance – registration is now closed due to demand – can have a free skin cancer check and find out about reducing the risks. Last year’s checks discovered 250 visitors with a form of skin cancer, 50 probably a melanoma. (DutchNews)

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VVD chairman steps down as crematorium deal fall out continues

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The chairman of the right-wing Liberal party VVD has resigned after coming under fire for his involvement in a controversial million euro crematorium deal.

Henry Keizer stepped down temporarily earlier this month pending an inquiry by the party’s integrity committee. In his resignation letter, Keizer said the party needed a chairman who could fully devote themselves to the job in hand.

For this reason, Keizer said, he had decided to step down. ‘In the coming period I must concentrate on counteracting the string of accusations and insinuations made against me,’ he said.

Keizer took over the commercial arm of a Dutch crematorium association in 2012 for €12.5m, even though the company had been valued at €31.5m. At the time, he was also an advisor to the association, website Follow the Money revealed last month.

It later transpired that Keizer is also chairman of the association and this allows him to control what information about the 2012 deal is made public. (DutchNews)

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Dutch draw up dangerous dogs list, send owners back to school

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Pitbull terriers, Rottweilers and the Caucasian shepherds are among the animals on a Dutch government list of officially dangerous dogs.

From next year, the owners of 20 breeds and all pit-bull crossbreeds will have to go on a compulsory cause in keeping dogs which are known to have a propensity to violence. The list and compulsory course are part of a series of measures the caretaker government plans to introduce in an effort to cut down on the number of dog attacks.

Junior economic affairs minister Martin van Rijn is also working on a list of banned breeds and plans to give local councils the powers to ban dangerous dogs from some areas.

In addition, the government will establish a central register to record dog bite incidents and a hotline for people to report dangerous dogs or owners who refuse to deal with their dogs properly.

Bites

‘There have been a number of serious biting incidents in recent years and this is extremely worrying,’ the minister said in a statement. ‘Councils will be given more powers to take effective measures… but ultimately it is owners who are responsible for their dogs.’

The official list of dangerous dogs includes pedigree dogs and crossbreeds which are known to have a high risk of aggressive behaviour. It includes 20 pedigree breeds such as Rottweilers, various varieties of pit-bull and bull terrier, bull mastiffs and the Akita.

The Dutch animal protection charity Dierenbescherming has welcomed the course for dog owners. ‘We cannot deny this is a problem,’ a spokesman said. ‘Shelters are full of dogs, most of which are pit bulls and similar breeds.

They were often bought on impulse and have not been properly trained.’ The Netherlands introduced a ban on breeding pit bulls and similar dogs 20 years ago after three children were savaged to death. But the ban was rescinded in 2008. (DutchNews)

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More police officers suspended for leaking info, integrity issues

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Last year 126 Dutch police officers were sacked or suspended because of integrity issues, the Telegraaf said on Wednesday, quoting police figures. 18 were sacked for leaking or abusing secret police information and 30 for drugs and alcohol abuse – including 11 for drunk driving. Sixteen officers lost their jobs for discrimination or sexual offences.

Among the cases highlighted by the Telegraaf were one officer who was sacked for tipping of criminals about a pending raid and another for having webcam sex while on duty with a woman who claimed to be a 17-year-old girl.

In total, 1,473 police officers were investigated, a sharp rise on 2015, the paper said. However, this is largely due to changes in the way cases were registered. In 384 cases, the investigation has not yet been completed.

Trial

The figures are due to be sent to parliament this week. In total, some 60,000 people work for the police. A former police officer known as Mark M is currently on trial accused of systematically leaking information to criminals for four years.

M. is alleged to have run a network of underworld clients while training in the police force and passing on files from the police data system. An investigation found he had made 30,000 inquiries about 23 cases.  (DutchNews)

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Dutch MPs debate coalition formation as process begins all over again

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – MPs are debating the collapse of talks to form a new coalition government on Wednesday morning, as chief negotiator Edith Schippers says her work is done.

Talks between the two liberal parties VVD and D66, the Christian Democrats and GroenLinks broke down on Monday, floored by wide differences between the parties on immigration.

Schippers said in a briefing to MPs on Tuesday that all important subjects had been covered at least once during the 18 days of talks. Preliminary agreements had been reached on some of them, but compromises only become definitive when a deal has been made on the total package, she said.

Parliamentary chairwoman Khadija Arib met party leaders on Tuesday to discuss the next steps. During Wednesday’s debate, MPs will also appoint a new chief negotiator and insiders widely expect Schippers to be reappointed.

They also expect the small Christian party ChristenUnie to be called to the negotiating table to replace GroenLinks. However, D66 in particular has difficulties with ChristenUnie’s stance on ethical issues such as euthanasia and that could prove a major stumbling block.

A coalition with ChristenUnie would also give the alliance a majority of just one seat in both houses of parliament. PVV leader Geert Wilders on Tuesday again referred to his willingness to join the talks. His party, he said, is also keen to see a tough immigration policy.

‘We can agree on that within a day,’ Wilders said. The leaders of the other main parties have all said they will not work with Wilders, who pulled out of a previous coalition, forcing early elections. (DutchNews)

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Drugs gang who used crocodiles to guard cash jailed for up to three years

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The 10 members of a drugs gang who used two crocodiles to guard their money have been jailed for periods of up to three years by judges in Amsterdam.

The seven men and three women, aged between 24 and 61, were arrested in February last year. The reptiles were found when police conducted raids on six houses in Amsterdam and one in Almere, netting several kilos of synthetic drugs, including €500,000 worth of crystal meth, €300,000 in cash, and several firearms.

Most of the cash was in a room in one house guarded by the two crocodiles which would-be thieves would have to pass to get to the money. The main suspect, a 56-year-old Amsterdammer, was jailed for three years, six months suspended. The other suspects were given sentences ranging from two years to community service of 240 hours. (DutchNews)

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Dutch police to use data mining to predict burglary and muggings

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch national police force plans to introduce computer techniques to predict the likelihood of crime all over the country by the end of the year, the Volkskrant reported on Tuesday.

The predictions are based on a detailed analysis of actual crime figures covering offences such as muggings, burglary and theft. Trials in Amsterdam have been so successful that the system is now to go nationwide.

The Criminality Anticipation System works by dividing the area to be studied into blocks of 125 metres by 125 metres. Each block is then analysed according to its crime history, the location of known criminals and other statistics such as the ages and sex of its residents, as well as how many people live on social security benefits.

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is not included as a factor because it is a ‘politically incorrect variable’, Dick Willems, who developed up the system, told the Volkskrant. The results are then used by the police to carry out extra patrols or other preventative measures.

The trial in Amsterdam showed that 20% of burglaries took place within the highlighted areas, and this figure rose to 40% when the border areas were also included, the paper said. Crimes such as murder and rape are not included because they are too rare to allow predictions.

Risks

Arnout de Vries of scientific research institute TNO said last year that big data has a role in policing but that mathematical models do have inherent risks. ‘The software performs calculations based on the collective memory of the police force, which is far more than any individual is capable of’ he said.

‘However, mathematical models also have inherent risks. Tunnel vision is one such risk, because the software relies on data collected in the past.’ (DutchNews)

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