Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2379)

Police arrest seven, seize 50 tonnes of fireworks, in cross border probe

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch and German police have arrested seven people and seized 50 tonnes of fireworks for use in professional shows in a joint cross-border operation, local broadcaster RTV Noord reported.

Three people from the northern Groningen town of Delfzijl were arrested earlier this month, on suspicion of selling professional fireworks to members of the public. They were found with some 700 kilos of fireworks plus a quantity of cash.

That investigation led across the border to Germany, where four Dutch nationals were arrested and over 50 tonnes of fireworks were confiscated. Part of the haul, some two tonnes, were in a van waiting to be shipped, RTV Noord said.

Police put the value of the firework haul at €750,000 and say more arrests cannot be ruled out.



Ministry tells Dolfinarium to make improvements, put education central

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dolfinarium amusement park in Harderwijk has been told to make changes to its shows and improve the living conditions of some animals by wildlife minister Carola Schouten.

‘Doing nothing is not an option,’ Schouten told MPs in a briefing this week. The minister’s comments follow a visit to the park by inspectors at the end of last year.

They reported that while the animals are well cared for, questions remained about the performances the animals were trained to take part in, the tanks they lived in and the interaction with the public, in particular the photo opportunities with dolphins and sea lions.

‘I have urged the Dolfinarium to adapt its educational programme … and the performances,’ the minister said. ‘It is essential that the educational message in the performances is strengthened and that the animals’ natural patterns of behaviour are central,’ Schouten said.

More recommendations are to follow in the autumn and will form part of the zoo permit process, she said.


Pro-animal party PvdD has called for the attraction to be closed down, describing it as a ‘circus at a fixed location’.

Dolfinarium spokesman Taco Rietveld told broadcaster RTL that animal welfare has the highest priority and that the park’s new show fully meets the ministry’s educational demands.

However, the coronavirus has led to a sharp drop in visitor income and major investments have been put on hold, he said.



Dutch baby death rate drops over 20 years, as better screening pays off

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Efforts to reduce the number of babies dying in the Netherlands before their first birthday have had an effect, with the death rate shrinking from 5.1 babies per 1,000 live births to 3.6 over the past 20 years.

Last year, 617 of the 170,000 babies born in the Netherlands died before reaching the age of one, compared with around 1,000 at the turn of the century. In three-quarters of baby deaths, the child dies in the first 28 days of life.

The CBS says the decline is due to better prenatal screening, fewer mothers under the age of 20 – a major risk group – and a drop in the number of multiple births. Recommendations to eliminate cot death would also appear to be paying off, the CBS said.

Between 10 and 20 babies now die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the Netherlands a year, according to research published in 2018 by the University of Twente.

But in the 1980s the figure was was as high as 190, when the fashion was to put babies to sleep on their stomachs. The Dutch baby death rate is now around the average in Europe, with Estland, Slovenia and Sweden leading the way at two deaths per 1,000 live births or less.



Cigarette firms fined €82m for price fixing, judge rejects gagging order

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch consumers and markets authority ACM has fined four cigarette manufacturers a total of €82m for price fixing between July 2008 and July 2011.

The agency says the four companies – British American Tobacco, JTI, Philip Morris Benelux and Van Nelle Tabak – illegally exchanged information about the future price of cigarettes, so they could adjust their own prices.

The information allowed manufacturers to adjust their prices to their competitors’ prices in advance, said ACM director Martijn Snoep in a press statement. ‘That distorts competition.

The manufacturers knew that exchanging this type of information was at odds with competition rules. However, that did not lead to changes in their behaviour.’ In one email, a JTI employee wrote in an e-mail to a cigarette wholesaler: ‘Attached is BAT’s price list.

As soon as you receive ITN and PMI, please forward them to me immediately.’ In another JTI email quoted by the ACM, an employee wrote: ‘BAT, PMI and ITN now confirmed an RSP [ACM: resale price] increase per mid 2009 of €0.10 on their total portfolio effective as of August/September.

We recommend increasing our entire portfolio by €0.10 as of September 2009 improving our profitability.’ All four companies have filed objections to the fines, the biggest of which went to BAT (€31m).

Three of them had also gone to court in an effort to stop publication of the ACM’s decision, but that request was turned down by a court in Rotterdam.



Trial of man accused of killing Nicky Verstappen in 1998 begins

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The man accused of abducting and killing 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen in 1998 has told his trial that the boy was already dead when he found him.

Jos Brech is alleged to have snatched Nicky Verstappen from a summer camp in Brunssummerheide, Limburg, sexually assaulting him then killing him to conceal the crime.

The boy’s body was found the next day a kilometre away. Other than a brief statement during an earlier procedural hearing in which he denied having anything to do with Nicky’s disappearance, Brech has so far exercised his right to silence.

But on the opening day of his trial, the 57-year-old told the court that he had found the boy’s dead body on the heath and panicked because he had a previous history of offences involving young boys.

Brech claimed he had searched for a pulse, which explained why his DNA was found on Nicky’s body and underwear. ‘I didn’t know what else to do,’ he said in a recorded video message played to the court.

‘Report it to the police? Who would believe me? ‘I left as fast as I could and went home. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I went for a bike ride to clear my head. My thoughts were taken up with that child.

The media, the news, the missing boy, still not found. ‘I have made wrong decisions that I can’t change. I have exercised my right to silence for a long time, which is why it’s good for me to tell my story now. The parents have the right to know.’


The case was unsolved for 20 years until a mass DNA profiling exercise in 1998 linked Brech to the crime via family members. Prosecutors say 27 traces of DNA on Nicky’s body and clothing match the suspect’s profile.

Brech is charged with possessing child pornography and qualified manslaughter, which refers to the act of killing a person to cover up another crime, in this case sexual abuse.

The prosecution case is likely to hang on the DNA evidence and the testimony of two witnesses who say they saw Brech riding his bike through Brunssummerheide with a boy on the back on the night of the kidnapping.

The development led to a Europe-wide search for Brech, who had been reported missing by his family in April 1998. He was tracked down to a remote area outside Barcelona where he was living in the wild and has been held in custody ever since.



Records were forecast in 2020, but tourist numbers plunge by 71%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of foreign tourists visiting the Netherlands is set to plunge by 71% this year compared with 2019, according to new figures from the Dutch tourism and convention board NBTC.

The NBTC expects some six million foreign visitors to spend time in the Netherlands this year – a third of the forecast total of nearly 22 milllion.

The agency had forecast record visitor numbers, boosted by the Formula 1 race in Zandvoort, the Eurovision Song Festival and the European football championships, all of which were cancelled because of coronavirus.

NBTC director Jos Vranken says this year’s figures are comparable to the 1990s. ‘Almost the entire sector is in a deep dip and it will be 2024 before we can speak of a recovery,’ Vranken said.

‘Lockdowns, travel restrictions and sentiment have led us to sharply revise the forecast,’ he said. Fewer Dutch tourists also had a holiday in their home country, with overnight stays by locals down by one third.



New coronavirus cases near 3,000, as tougher measures loom

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A further 2,999 positive coronavirus tests were reported to the public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to Sunday morning, ahead of new measures being introduced in a further eight regions where the infection rate has reached alarming levels.

From 6pm on Sunday, bars and cafes in Groningen, in Flevoland, in parts of Brabant covering Den Bosch and in Hilversum and Nijmegen, will have to close their doors at midnight and customer numbers will be limited to 50.

Other, more local measures are also being introduced. And with infections continuing to rise in the big cities, a second round of measures is now on the cards for Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, which lead the list of infection hot spots.

In Amsterdam, for example, there were 464 positive tests reported to the RIVM overnight and the number of positive cases has risen by 57% in the past week. Earlier cafe closures and further restrictions on guest numbers are among the measures being considered, sources suggest.

Employers organisations have now urged their members to be more vigorous in keeping to the coronavirus rules to head off a new lockdown. ‘A second lockdown looms, with all the draconian consequences for companies, workers and the economy that that entails,’ the VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland said in a joint statement.

‘And because we have noticed people are becoming more complacent, we would urge everyone to once again give visible attention to adhering to the protocols.’ Last week DutchNews reported that supermarket association CBL had no plans to ask its members to step up hygiene measures, despite the rise in positive tests.


Experts are warning that if more action is not taken, the Netherlands will be back to where it was in March and April, at the height of the pandemic. In total, 617 coronavirus patients are currently being treated in hospital, of whom 127 are in intensive care.

‘On average, one in 134 infections lead to an admission to intensive care three weeks later,’ Sjaak de Gouw, head of the regional health board association is quoted as saying by ‘Give the exponential growth in the number of positive coronavirus tests – the total is doubling every eight days – that is when the healthcare system will be overwhelmed.’

And while youngsters, who usually have few symptoms, account for the bulk of the new infections, this is giving rise to a false sense of security because they, in turn, will infect the older generations, Aura Timen, from the RIVM’s infectious diseases department told

The effect of the current measures will only be visible in two weeks, she said. Other experts point out that many infections remained under the radar in the early months of the crisis because testing was only open to a few groups.



Pro-Piet vigilantes won’t face court over attack on anti-Piet meeting

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Five people accused of attacking a building where anti Zwarte Piet campaigners were holding a meeting last November will not face trial because of a lack of evidence, the public prosecution department said.

The five were all arrested on the evening of the attack in The Hague but there is not enough evidence to prove they took part, the department said.

The meeting of about 70 activists was broken up after vigilantes smashed the windows of the building, attacked it with fireworks and vandalised cars parked outside.

After the incident terrorism expert Teun van Dongen told NRC that the latest incident reflected the radicalisation of the so-called ‘pro-Pete’ movement, as white supremacist groups such as Pegida and football hooligans have adopted the cause in recent years.



Utrecht teaching hospital starts trials of fast coronavirus tests to check accuracy

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Utrecht’s UMC teaching hospital has started trials of fast coronavirus tests, in the hope of establishing how effective they are. The trials are taking place at the city’s drop-in test centre.

People who take the fast test are also given a more traditional test so the results can be compared. Trials of different fast testing kits will start up in other places, including Rotterdam, next week.

The Netherlands currently uses PCR tests to establish if people are infected with coronavirus. They show the genetic make-up of the virus, if present, but processing the swabs in a lab takes around five hours from start to finish.

‘The PCR test is very sensitive, and the fast test is less so, so you will need to have more of the virus in your system for it to show up,’ microbiologist Rob Schuurman said.

If the fast test proves accurate, officials hope to be able to use it on a wider scale from November. It will not replace the PCR test but can be used to make a quick differentiation between people who definitely have the virus and those who still need a PCR test.

The Utrecht trial centres on a test for antibodies which takes 15 to 20 minutes for a result. ‘We know it is less sensitive, but we want to establish which infections it picks up, and which it does not,’ Schuurman said.

Once the trials have all been completed, the results will be shared and assessed to decide what role the fast tests should have in Dutch coronavirus strategy.

The Dutch health board association said earlier this week that some 10,000 people a day are unable to make a test appointment because of the lack of capacity.

The soonest test one applicant in Amsterdam was offered on Friday, for instance, was a spot in Den Helder on Sunday.



Former minister joined civil servants to discuss waste dumping: Zembla

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Infrastructure minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen wrongly told MPs that a former minister had not influenced plans to dump tonnes of granite waste in the Gelderland nature reserve Over de Maas, current affairs programme Zembla reported on Thursday.

Van Nieuwenhuizen told MPs in May that former foreign affairs minister Halbe Zijlstra, now head of construction group VolkerWessels, had not put pressure on government officials to approve the plan, even though they were opposed.

Zijlstra too said his role had been purely to introduce officials to the owners of the waste, a fact repeated by Van Nieuwenhuizen in parliament.

However, using freedom of information legislation, Zembla has obtained proof that Zijlstra took part in at least one meeting between officials, and used emails and text messages to target senior civil servants.


Zembla reported earlier that senior civil servants at the transport ministry’s roads department pushed through the permit to dump half a million tonnes of granite waste into the artificial lake in Gelderland, even though the officials in charge of taking the decision had rejected it.

The waste, a clay-like substance left over when granite and sand are crushed and prepared for road building, comes from Amsterdam company Graniet Import Benelux in Amsterdam, which is part of stone import group Bontrup.


Chemists and other experts told Zembla earlier that the waste had been wrongly classified as ‘soil’ to facilitate the dumping and that any toxic substances could leach into the water.

‘You should certainly not dump this material into an uncontrolled system like a lake,’ environmental chemist Joop Harmsen told the programme. ‘You have no idea what the impact in the future could be.’

Transport ministry officials said earlier in a statement that granite waste can be dumped if it meets official conditions, ‘which this did’. ‘Retrospectively, the process of granting the permit could have been better,’ the statement said.

The lake at Over de Maas was created when sand and gravel was extracted for the construction industry and has already been the subject of dumping scandals – most recently involving waste from Belgium. The area is now being redeveloped into a nature reserve.


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