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Support mounts for Dutch author who received online death threats

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Support is mounting for Dutch author Pim Lammers, who pulled out of writing a poem for this year’s children’s books promotion event Kinderboekenweek after receiving online death threats.

Lammers was accused on social media of being ‘a pedophile activist’ and criticised by Christian organisation Gezin in Gevaar (‘family in danger’) for a short story he wrote for a literary magazine in 2016 about a boy and his football coach.

Far right MP Sybren van Haga also went on the attack, accusing Lammers of celebrating child abuse. ‘Writing a poem is not worth getting death threats for,’ Lammers said in a statement on the website of the event organiser CPNB.

‘The accusations are baseless and I have reported them to the police. The sheer volume of threats and aggression aimed at me and my loved ones has prompted me to give back the assignment.’

Organiser CPNB said it was ‘horrified’ at the online attacks and said ‘a discussion must be had about the safety of authors’. Junior culture minister Gunay Uslu said on Twitter that ‘whatever you think of an author’s work, to play prosecutor and judge from behind a computer is worrying and harmful’.

Prime minister Mark Rutte said freedom of expression is a great good. ‘Only a judge can set the limits,’ he tweeted. At least one fellow writer who came to Lammer’s defense has since been threatened as well, Geneviève Waldmann of the publishers’ association GAU has said.

Writer Jacques Vriens told NPO radio he felt ‘sorry’ for Lammers. ‘People are free to object to his texts. But you have to come up with arguments,’ he said. Lammers has since removed the story in question from his website, a move Vriens said he found ‘regrettable’.

‘I understand the death threats had a real impact. On the other hand, it would have been good if he had persisted. The we, as writers, would have supported him as a group.’



Netherlands sends rescue team to Turkey in aftermath of 7.8 quake

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is sending its specialist search and rescue team to Turkey to help emergency services dealing with the aftermath of the severe earthquake at the weekend.

By Monday afternoon 1900 people were confirmed to have died after the quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck southern Turkey and northern Syria at 4.17am local time, in what Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as his country’s worst natural disaster since 1939.

Thousands more are injured and trapped under rubble in an area spanning more than 300km across the Turkish provinces of Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras and the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima expressed their condolences for the victims of the diaster and support for rescue workers in a statement published by the royal household.

‘The victims and their families are in our thoughts, as are the rescue workers who are doing their utmost to bring people to safety. They deserve our total support,’ the statement said.

Foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra said the urban search and rescue team UNAR.NL, comprising police, military personnel, firefighters and first aid responders, was heading to the region.

The team of 65 personnel and eight rescue dogs is due to depart from Eindhoven’s military airbase in a cargo plane at 6.30pm on Monday. ‘Our thoughts are with the victims, their families, and the many injured Turks and Syrians,’ Hoekstra said in a message on Twitter.

Nearly 900 buildings have been destroyed by the earthquake, Turkish officials said, including a hospital in the coastal city of Iskanderoun. Vice-president Fuat Okray said rescue efforts were being hampered by bad weather.



Leiden study shows adjusting drug doses to patient DNA cuts side effects

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Patients experience 30% fewer serious side effects when their medication doses are tailored to their DNA, according to a team of international researchers led by Leiden University Medical Center.

The study, published in The Lancet, shows that patients may respond differently to a specific drug depending on variations in their genetic information. For example, some individuals process medication faster than others and, as a result, require a higher dose to achieve the necessary effect.

‘For the first time we have proven that a ‘tailored’ strategy works at a large scale within clinical practice. There is now enough evidence for us to proceed with implementation,’ said Leiden professor Henk-Jan Guchelaar who coordinated the research.

To make more personalised treatments possible, the researchers developed a ‘DNA medication pass’ that links a patient’s genetic profile to drugs which are influenced by DNA.

Scanning the pass enables doctors and pharmacists to know what the optimal medication dose is for the individual being treated. Some 7,000 patients from seven European countries were assessed over several medical specialities, including oncology, cardiology, psychiatry and general medicine.

The Lancet study found that patients who actively make use of the medication pass, and whose doses are adjusted according to their DNA, experienced 30% fewer serious side effects than patients who were prescribed a standard dose of medication.

In addition, the researchers say, the pass gives patients the feeling of being more in control, as they become actively involved in their personalised treatment.

Guchelaar believes the pass, which costs between €300 and €600, should now become part of the standard care package.

‘We want to move towards mapping the DNA of every patient who comes to the pharmacy,’ Guchelaar said. ‘In this way, we can make treatment more effective and safer for each patient.’



Slavery exhibition to be shown at UN in New York and worldwide

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A blockbuster exhibition on Slavery from the Rijksmuseum is going to be on show at the head office of the United Nations in New York next year, the Rijksmuseum has announced.

The UN’s entrance hall will display a version of the exhibition – based on 10 stories from the slave trade that fuelled the Dutch ‘golden age’ – from the end of February to the end of March. It will be titled ‘Slavery.

Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery.’ The Rijksmuseum’s exhibition in 2021 was a major awareness-raising event in a wider reassessment of the ‘shadowy’ sides of Dutch history.

Last December, Mark Rutte gave a controversial apology for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and announced a €200 million fund for awareness raising projects; the Dutch king is widely expected to apologise in July, on the 150th anniversary of the effective scrapping of Dutch slavery.

‘It is very important to recognise the impact that slavery has had on world history, and the impact it still has,’ said Taco Dibbits, director general of the Rijksmuseum, in a statement.

‘We are very grateful that the United Nations is raising awareness of this through this exhibition.’ The new display is part of a UN outreach programme, and will feature the original 10 stories, each around a single object from the Rijksmuseum.

There will also be a programme of speakers and a showing of Nieuw Licht, a documentary on the making of the exhibition.

According to a press release from the Rijksmuseum, the compact version of its Slavery exhibition will then travel to UN offices and embassies worldwide.



Student groups call for action on international student numbers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Student organisations have added their voices to calls for a temporary brake on international student numbers, ahead of the publication of new government measures next month.

International students now account for 40% of first years and this is having an impact on the quality of degree courses, the LSVB and ISO told news website Nu.nl.

On Wednesday MPs called on the government to bring in permanent limits but that would be going too far, given the added value foreign students bring, the associations said.

Nevertheless, ‘something has to happen because the numbers are impacting on quality,’ the ISO said. For example, the ISO said, lecturers face problems reaching so many students and marking their exams, and there is less time for individual help.

At the same time, some lecturers have poor English skills which is also having an impact on standards, the student groups argue. The shortage of housing is an additional problem.

‘Students need to be made aware that they have to find a place to live before coming to the Netherlands to study,’ the ISO said.



Government to provide financial support for healthcare workers with Long Covid

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Healthcare workers suffering the long-term effects of coronavirus after falling ill with the virus at the start of the pandemic will receive financial support, long-term care minister Conny Helder has told parliament.

The government will draw up regulations to cover people who caught the virus while working in hospitals, care homes, community care teams and other institutions between March and June 2020, and been unable to return to work.

Healthcare workers were exempted from many of the quarantine rules in the early months to prevent staff shortages putting further strain on the system.

‘I am very well aware of the urgency of the problems for some people, which is why the cabinet is working in various ways to support them as well as possible,’ she wrote in a letter to MPs.

Helder said the cabinet had stepped in after efforts to negotiate a compensation deal between employers’ organisations and trade unions, the approach advised by the Council of State, failed to produce a result.

The FNV and CNV unions started a legal challenge two weeks ago demanding a compensation payment of €22,839 for every healthcare worker who developed Long Covid during the first wave.

Around 1,000 former staff have been dismissed after being declared unfit for work, causing their income to drop by up to 50%, the FNV said.

It said the level of compensation was based on payments made for other industrial illnesses, such as cancers associated with exposure to asbestos or paint chemicals.



Mad cow disease found in cow on Dutch farm during routine tests

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Mad cow disease ,or BSE, has been identified in the body of a cow on a Dutch farm, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday.

Test have not yet established if the cow was suffering from the classic or atypical variant of the disease. The atypical variant, which is found sporadically in older animals, is not a problem for humans.

However, the classic version, which sparked a major health scare in the 1990s, can lead to humans developing the brain disease Creutzfeldt–Jakob if they eat infected meat.

In total, 88 cases of the classic variant have been found in Dutch cattle since 1997, when a testing programme was set up. The last case of mad cow disease in the Netherlands dates from 2011 and concerned the atypical variant.

The cow has not ended up in the food chain and is not a risk to food safety, the ministry said. Officials have declined to say where the farm was located, only that it has been closed off pending further tests.

Officials are now tracing the animal’s descendants, animals which have eaten the same food and animals which grew up with the affected cow. They will all be slaughtered and checked for signs of the disease.

BSE was established in the dead cow through a European monitoring system which introduced post-mortem testing on at-risk animals over certain ages.



Trust Fund’s school repair program completes three more schools

SINT MAARTEN (EBENEZER) - With work completed at Milton Peters College (MPC), Methodist Agogic Centre (MAC) Comprehensive Secondary Education, and St. Dominic High School, a total of six (6) schools have now been repaired through the Sint Maarten Trust Fund.

The program’s scope of work includes fixing roofs, doors, and windows, as well as mold remediation, plumbing, and minor electrical work. The contractor also installed new aluminum shutters on doors and windows where necessary.

In the case of MAC, additional structural interventions had to be done to improve the school’s resilience to natural disasters. This resulted in two of the school’s buildings being more securely anchored to their concrete foundations using steel connectors that were specifically designed to help them resist high winds and heavy tremors.

A small ceremony took place on Wednesday, January 25 to symbolize the completion of the three schools. In attendance were Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel, members of the respective school boards, and personnel of the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB). Representatives of the contractor and supervising contractor were also present.

“Thanks to NRPB for implementing safeguards, and contractors who have helped to raise the bar for reconstruction post Irma and Maria, Building Back Better. Congratulations to MPC, St. Dominic and MAC high schools on the needed repairs through this project. As an educator, it warms my heart to know that the students and teachers will finally be able to have their buildings fully working. It’s also a relief for them to be able to get back to normal with their schools now repaired; handed over safer and more resilient to future disasters. Thank you for your patience during this process. It is the goal of this government to ensure all schools are properly prepared and look forward to the coming repairs of the next batch of schools as well as school gyms that are scheduled in the next phases,” said Prime Minister Jacobs.

“I am happy that this phase of the school repairs has come to completion. This means that we have three more schools in which the students can enjoy face-to-face instruction again. I would like to thank everyone in some way or the other who have made this possible. I look forward to the next phase of the school repairs,” said ECYS Minister Samuel.

The Trust Fund’s school repair program is now entering its third stage. Thirteen (13) schools are slated for repairs in the next 18 months, with the work on the first six (6) of these schools scheduled to begin later in the first quarter of 2023. The repairs will continue in batches until they are all completed.

The 13 schools are MAC Browlia F. Maillard Campus, MAC John A. Gumbs Campus, the Hillside Christian Schools (Asha Stevens and Helmich Snijders Campuses), Seventh-Day Adventist School, Sister Borgia Primary School, Sister Magda Primary School, St. Dominic Primary School, St. Maarten Academy, St. Maarten Academy PSVE, University of St. Martin (USM), Sundial School, and the National Institute for Professional Advancement (NIPA).

“In order to facilitate quality education, the buildings that surround our students and educators must be solid, safe, and secure. Through the Trust Fund and on behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten, we are ensuring that the foundations for education can be met in our primary and secondary schools. As we move into the final phases of the school repair program, I am proud to know that we are making strides to become a better, stronger, and more resilient nation,” said NRPB Director Connor.

The Sint Maarten Trust Fund is financed by the Government of the Netherlands, managed by the World Bank, and implemented by the NRPB on behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten.


Banks should do more to help people struggling with digital payments

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Some 2.6 million people in the Netherlands are struggling with making digital payments and other online banking affairs, the Dutch central bank said on Monday.

While most people can manage their everyday payments in shops, they are less autonomous when it comes to infrequent actions such as opening a bank account or blocking a debit card, the central bank said.

Banks are closing an increasing number of branches and more and more transactions are being moved online. ‘While banks acknowledge the problem and provide additional support, they can do more to keep the payment system accessible to all,’ the central bank said.

The bank’s research shows that one in six Dutch adults get help to manage their financial affairs because they do not understand complicated language and instructions, have difficulty remembering codes or experience stress when performing actions under time pressure.

Of them, roughly 400,000 Dutch people aged 18 and above rely exclusively on others for things like paying their bills. ‘These people, most of whom are elderly or have a low level of education, are entirely dependent on their partner or another family member for their banking business as a result of digitalisation,’ the bank said.

‘They report feelings such as shame, helplessness, inferiority or sadness. Some have difficulty accepting they are forced to rely on others.’

Too high

For example, ATMs are too high for people in wheelchairs or mobility scooters, meaning they cannot reach the keys. In addition, people who are poor readers sometimes cannot read fast enough and get anxious when there are people queuing behind them.

The disappearance of ATMs and the closure of bank branches providing cash withdrawals are also often cited as obstacles to banking independence, the report said.

Reliance on mobile phone apps is also a problem for people with reading or sight problems, or mobility issues. ‘The screen on a phone is much too small to read things properly, and the keys are too small to get everything right at once,’ one respondent said. ‘Before you know it, something goes wrong and, if you’re unlucky, you lose your money.

My hands don’t work well anymore because of rheumatism. I have enough difficulty sending a WhatsApp message, let alone entering numbers to do my banking.’


Banks have come up with different forms of support including face-to-face home assistance or group classes in handling the digital payments environment. They have also developed special aids for visually impaired customers such as talking login devices with large keys.

The same applies to applications for speech and voice recognition for people do not read well, who are blind or (severely) visually impaired and people with limited hand function.

Nevertheless, there is an ‘urgent need for better information’ about what is available, the central bank said.

‘It is very important that banks maintain physical contact points where customers can interact with bank employees and that customers can still easily contact their bank by telephone instead of having to communicate with a chatbot,’ the central bank said.

‘Personal telephone customer service is essential: people want to speak directly to a bank employee instead of talking to a call centre employee through a menu of options.’



Netherlands among least corrupt nations but lobbying is a concern: TI

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands has recorded its lowest ever score on the annual corruption index published by Transparency International, but remains one of the world’s least corrupt nations.

The score of 80 is two points lower than last year and ranks the Netherlands eighth on the league table of most transparent nations. just below Switzerland and above Germany.

Of the top ten nations, only leaders Denmark and Ireland, in joint 10th with Luxembourg, improved their score this year. Belgium and the UK were ranked joint 18th with France just behind in 21st.

Somalia has the lowest score of the 180 nations, with 12 points.

TI spokesman Andor Admiraal said the weak regulations for lobbyists and the funding of political parties were the main weaknesses for the Dutch public sector. ‘There isn’t a proper lobbying register, for example, which means lobbyists aren’t adequately supervised.

And there are far fewer rules about the funding of political parties compared to other countries,’ he said. The Netherlands also has no ‘cooling-off’ period for politicians when they leave office, unlike other countries where they are not allowed to work as advisers in a sector that they previously regulated until a set period of time has elapsed.

Raymond Knops, the former defence minister and Christian Democrat MP, announced at the weekend that he was leaving parliament to chair the defence and security lobby group NIDV.


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