Dutch Political Crisis Hirsi Ali Row Brings Down Government

The political fallout from the Hirsi Ali crisis took its ultimate scalp Thursday night when the Dutch government collapsed. New elections will now follow after a minor Dutch political party withdrew its support for Prime Minister Balkenende's government.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende paid a visit to Queen Beatrix this morning to offer his government's resignation. His coalition government collapsed in acrimony last night after the liberal D66 party, a junior partner in the coalition, supported a vote of no-confidence in Balkenende's government and two ministers resigned from his cabinet.

The move was prompted by the continuing row over former politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali . Dutch immigration minister Rita Verdonk had threatened to strip the Somali-born conservative politician of her citizenship after Hirst Ali admitted falsifying parts of asylum application. Verdonk, nickname "Iron Rita" because of her hard-line immigration policies, was forced to withdraw the threat after a lengthy parliamentary debate, but the D66 party was not satisfied and demanded the immigration minister's resignation. "A rift was created with my party and I feel there is no other way but to withdraw support for this government," D66 party leader Lousewies van der Laan told parliament.

Prime Minister Balkenende whose Christian Democratic party is the largest grouping in the Dutch parliament, must now wait to see if he has sufficient support to lead a minority government until elections can be held later in the year. New elections could take place as early as September which the opposition Labour party is expected to win.

The fallout began after Rita Verdonk demanded conservative politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 36, be stripped of her Dutch citizenship because of alleged false statements made on her asylum application in 1992. Hirsi Ali rose to prominence after she wrote the script for a film criticizing the oppression of women under Islam. The film's director Theo va Gogh was brutally murdered by an Islamic fanatic which prompted angry debate in Holland over immigration and citizenship. Hirsi Ali's tough line on immigration and integration was popular but her fall from grace proved equally rapid.

But, Verdonk's loud calls for the withdrawal of Hirsi Ali's Dutch passport were a step too far. Verdonk herself had won plaudits for hardline immigration policies including compulsory citizenship classes and jailing asylum seekers but after Hirsi Ali resigned and left the country, the immigration minister was widely condemned. Verdonk reversed her decision Thursday but the U-turn came too late. "Iron Rita" survived a no-confidence vote but the D66 party withdrew from the cabinet and Prime Minister Balkenende's government collapsed.

Hirsi Ali admitted making a false asylum application in May after a television documentary revealed inaccuracies in her explanation of how she came to the Netherlands in 1992, including her claims that she had fled a forced marriage. She has since left Holland for the US  where she has been offered a job with a conservative think tank based in Washington.


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