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Dutch troops leave Afghanistan after four years

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2010 at 11:19 am

KABUL (AFP) – Dutch troops ended their mission in Afghanistan Sunday after four “proud” years, in a departure experts say signals the beginning of a drawdown of foreign forces that will leave a worrying void.

The pull-out is the first significant drawdown of troops from the Afghan war, now in its ninth year, and comes as Taliban-led violence worsens and US forces suffered their worst month for casualties.

Dutch soldiers of Charlie Air assault company are seen erecting a tent beside their Bushmaster at an overnight halt during a patrol in The Chora Valley, in Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan Province. AFP file

A Dutch embassy official in Kabul said a small “change of command” ceremony and reception was held at the main military base in central Uruzgan province where most of the country’s 1,950 soldiers have been deployed.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which had asked the Dutch to extend their mission by a year, paid tribute to the Netherlands’ contribution and said it would maintain its current capacity in the area.

“Dutch forces have served with distinction in Uruzgan, and we honor their sacrifice and that of their Afghan counterparts during the Netherlands’ tenure in the province,” Major Joel Harper, an ISAF spokesman, said in a statement.

“We have planned for the transfer to the new multi-national operation to ensure a smooth transition… We will maintain current capabilities,” he said. The Netherlands’ deployment began in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers. NATO’s request for an extension of the mission sparked a political row that led to the Dutch government’s collapse in February, and the announced drawdown.

NATO and the United States have close to 150,000 troops in the country, but a mounting death toll for foreign troops has piled political pressure on the United States and its allies as voters grow increasingly weary of the blood price of the war.

The death toll for US soldiers in July was an all-time high of 66. A total of 408 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the website.

A Netherlands foreign ministry official said all soldiers would return home by September, while most hardware, including four F-16 fighter jets, three Chinook and five Apache helicopters would be back by the year’s end.

In central Uruzgan province the Dutch forces’ focus has been less on combat operations, and more on their “3D” approach of defence, development and diplomacy, which has been held up as a benchmark for other missions.

“The international community and NATO are helping Afghanistan stand on its own legs… The Netherlands has done its duty and fought for the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” said Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen in a statement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the Netherlands “for the work that Dutch soldiers and development workers have done, and are still doing, in building the country”.

But the Taliban remain very active in the province, where opium production is high, and the insurgents have welcomed the Dutch withdrawal, urging other countries to follow suit.

Canada is set to withdraw its entire force of 2,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, while Britain and the US have signalled that some troops will also leave in 2011 with an overall aim to end combat operations in 2014.

“This is the start. It’s a chain — the Dutch forces start to withdraw, followed by the Canadians, then the British by 2014. In the middle I think we will see a number of other NATO members… setting a timetable to leave,” said Afghan political analyst Haroon Mir.

The Dutch will be replaced by an American-led coalition force including Australian, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers.

But Mir said that local residents’ resistance to the Taliban was unlikely to toughen in Uruzgan, where he said security was worsening.

“In some districts people have risen against the Taliban but the problem is the Taliban have become very strong there so the local resistance will not do anything against them,” said Mir.

Despite that, Dutch chief of defence, General Peter van Uhm, whose son was among the 24 Dutch casualties during the mission, said his troops had achieved “tangible results that the Netherlands can be proud of”.

Since the start of its lead role in Uruzgan at a cost of some 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) to the Dutch state, the number of NGOs doing development work in the province has risen from six to 50, according to a Dutch embassy document.

Source: SGGP

Liberals draw one seat ahead of Labour in Dutch vote

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The Liberals were one seat ahead of Labour with 88 percent of the vote counted early Thursday after cliff-hanger general elections in the Netherlands, the far-right Party for Freedom the big winner in third place.

The Liberal party (VVD) led by Mark Rutte, which had campaigned on the need for deep spending cuts, and the Labour party (PvdA) of Job Cohen had been tied for hours at 31 seats each in the 150-seat parliament after Wednesday’s polls.

Women in traditional dresses vote in general elections in Staphorst. AFP photo

But with a greater percentage of the votes counted, published partial results showed the Liberals with 31 and Labour on 30.

Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), which demands an end to immigration from Muslim countries and a ban on new mosques, took its number of lawmakers from nine in the last parliament to 24, and could hope to enter a coalition government.

The far-right leader with his distinctive shock of fair hair called the result of Wednesday’s elections “magnificent”.

“The impossible has happened,” he told a televised party gathering. “We are the biggest winner today. The Netherlands chose more security, less crime, less immigration and less Islam.”

Pushed into fourth place was the Christian Democratic Action party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The CDA, which has been in almost all Dutch governments since World War II, lost 20 seats to end at 21, and was the big loser in the election.

Balkenende, who had headed a centre-left coalition since 2007, acknowledged defeat by resigning both his party’s leadership and his seat in parliament.

“I have informed the party chairman that I will lay down my party membership with immediate effect,” said Balkenende, 54, adding that he was taking “political responsibility” for the state of affairs.

The Liberals, who had 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, had topped opinion polls for several weeks.

Labour lost two seats compared with the previous elections in 2006.

The election was the first in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crisis erupted and has been closely watched to see how the public reacts to Europe’s wave of austerity.

The Liberals had led pre-election polls with their promise to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year from 2015. But their support appeared to drain away in the final 48 hours of lobbying.

Rutte had also promised to eradicate the public deficit, which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servant pay rises while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.

Labour had promised more “careful” savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich.

Rutte has set a target date of July 1 for the establishment of a new government. “We do not exclude any party,” he said in a debate Tuesday night when asked about a possible coalition with the far right.

He was previously reported as saying that a coalition with Labour was unlikely. Cohen has ruled out cooperation with the PVV.

The maverick Wilders has earned notoriety around the world with his campaign to ban the Koran in a bid to “stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands”.

Wilders, who has called Islam a fascist religion and likens the Koran to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, is known abroad for his 17-minute commentary, “Fitna”, which was termed “offensively anti-Islamic” by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

He goes on trial in the Netherlands in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain in 2009 to stop him spreading “hatred and violent messages.”

Voters marked their ballots with red pencils at some 10,000 polling stations in an election called after the government collapsed in February in a spat over military aid to Afghanistan.

The voter turnout was put at 74 percent, the lowest since 1998.

With none of the competing 18 parties able to rule alone, the party that emerges on top will lead coalition negotiations.

Official results will be released next Tuesday.

Source: SGGP

French, Dutch demand tighter Stability Pact

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm

PARIS, May 3, 2010 (AFP) – France and The Netherlands called on Monday for extra rigour in the EU’s Stability Pact after the Greek debt debacle, with France targeting financial stability and the Dutch attacking slack budgets.

Greek riot policemen block a street near the parliament building during a strike by municipal workers in the center of Athens on May 3, 2010. AFP photo

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told Le Monde newspaper that advance warning systems were needed to prevent a repetition of the Greek crisis and that new criteria must be decided to monitor the eurozone’s 16 members.

“We must imperatively place under our radarscope the monitoring of competitiveness and financial stability,” Lagarde said in the interview, referring to the Stability and Growth Pact which was intended to push countries from budget deficits to surpluses.

In The Hague, Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said that a massive bailout by the eurozone and the IMF for Greece called for “new and much stricter agreements” on respect for the rules of the pact.

“It is important to learn from this situation and to look anew at the European rules of the Stability and Growth Pact,” minister Jan Kees de Jager said in a statement.

“I am in support of new and much stricter agreements on adherence” to the rules, he said.

In Paris, Lagarde said that not enough attention had been placed on the growing gap between Germany’s export-driven economy and the mounting debt problems facing Greece, Portugal and Ireland, all within the eurozone.

Lagarde has argued recently that Germany was running an unsustainably big trade surplus with the rest of the eurozone.

On Sunday, European finance ministers approved a 110-billion-euro bailout over three years to save the Greek economy from drowning in debt and shore up the euro amid fears of a chain reaction across the single-currency zone.

“With this plan, Greece is completely protected for two and a half years,” said Lagarde, rejecting suggestion that Spain and Portugal would also face a crisis over their public finances.

“They are not at all in the same situation. They did not provide false figures, talk nonsense over their deficits,” she said.

Lagarde acknowledged that changes to the EU Stability and Growth Pact, adopted in 1997, had been under discussion for years, but argued the Greek crisis had brought new urgency to the debate.

“When it ends up costing you 110 billion euros, you do change your approach,” she said.

The pact notably dictates that member states must not let their budget deficits climb higher than three percent of GDP. Greece’s deficit is on track to reach 8.1 percent of GDP this year.

The pact, originally intended by Germany to be a rigorous corset to ensure convergence of eurozone public finances and prevent a Greece-style crisis, was subsequently diluted owing to opposition by some other leading eurozone countries.

France and Germany are also looking at tightening surveillance of rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, accused of compounding the Greek crisis when it cut its rate to junk status last week.

The Netherlands will contribute 4.8 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) of the total 110-billion-euro aid package.

“Aid to Greece is essential for the financial stability of the eurozone” — the 16 countries that share the euro, De Jager said.

“Although I am not happy with the situation, I know that the alternative of doing nothing for Greece could turn out to be even more unpleasant, also for the Netherlands.”

The minister added that allowing Greece to leave the eurozone “is naturally not an option”.

He said: “The Greek debt is in euros. That debt would only increase.”

De Jager is to discuss the Dutch contribution with a parliamentary finance commission on Friday.

If members of the commission are in agreement with the Dutch contribution, which has already been approved in principle, it was likely to be officially adopted at a plenary sitting of parliament next Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Dutch lower house explained.

Source: SGGP

Hamburg sign Dutch hot-shot van Nistelrooy

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 4:53 am

BERLIN, Jan 23, 2010 (AFP) – Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy signed an 18-month contract on Saturday with Bundesliga side Hamburg having left Spanish giants Real Madrid on a free transfer.

van Nistelrooy

His new club announced the news on Saturday night, after Hamburg’s 1-0 defeat at Dortmund which left Bruno Labbadia’s side fifth in the table, and the 33-year-old Dutchman has signed a contract until June 2011.

“I am really very happy that everything is in place and I look forward to coming to Hamburg on Monday,” said the Dutchman, who will officially be unveiled by Hamburg at the start of next week.

“Hamburg are a great team with a strong squad and large ambitions, which I also have.”

The Dutchman and former Manchester United ace has scored 46 goals in 68 league games for Real, but has struggled to make the team this season because of injury.

He retired from international football after Holland were knocked out of Euro 2008 by Russia in the quarter-finals.

Van Nistelrooy was the Champions League’s top-scorer in 2002, 2003 and 2006 and has scored 49 goals in 64 appearances in European football’s most lucrative competition.

He is the only player to have been the top-scorer in the Spanish, English and Dutch leagues.

“Ruud has proved his qualities with one of the top international clubs,” said Labbadia.

“I am convinced that he will shoot important goals for Hamburg.

“It shows this club’s standing that a player of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s caliber would choose to come to Hamburg.”

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Dutch company funds schools’ water systems

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2008 at 6:01 pm

The Netherlands-based Akzo Nobel’s Community Programme has helped build clean water systems in 22 rural primary schools that enroll a total of 5,000 students in six central provinces.

The new systems, built in the provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Phu Yen, and Binh Dinh, are valued at over 28,000 USD.

Akzo Nobel also conducted training sessions for school staff on how to use the UV- and ozone-treated water systems.

The funding of clean water systems is part of Akzo Nobel’s goals to improve primary and secondary education in Vietnam.

In 2007 the company gave 35,000 USD to Que Chau Kindergarten in Quang Nam province for a water supply system as part of the early childhood care and education programme of the East Meets West Foundation.

“We are proud to continue our partnership with East Meets West to build clean and encouraging learning environments for Vietnam’s most disadvantaged students, with the hope that they will be able to improve their lives and the country’s future,” said Nguyen Thi Lac Huyen, senior technical advisor for Akzo Nobel Coatings Vietnam-