Dutch government falls in row over MPs passport

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The Independent Online

Moves by the immigration minister Rita Verdonk to strip Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship and a successful legal campaign to evict her from her apartment resulted in international outrage against the Netherlands. It also touched off a political firestorm at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is at a peak.

Last night, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who only hours earlier was vowing to hold on, announced that he will tender the resignation of the Government to Queen Beatrix. The Government's smallest coalition member, D66, withdrew support from the coalition over Ms Verdonk's policies. Mr Balkenende's announcement ended 36 hours of political drama and came moments after three ministers quit the Cabinet following a vote earlier in the day by the D66 party in a no-confidence motion against the Government .

D66 is the smallest member of the centre-right government coalition that had been trying to boost its flagging profile ahead of a national election in May 2007.

Elections will take place within months rather than next May as scheduled. However, Mr Balkenende could still govern with a minority Cabinet. It is the second time Balkenende has resigned prematurely. His Conservative government was first elected in 2002 but quit three months later when his inexperienced coalition fell apart, but won again in 2003.

"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.

Ms Verdonk had waged a high profile campaign to strip Ayaan Hirsi Ali of Dutch citizenship for falsifying details about her name, age and refugee status in an asylum application upon arrival in the Netherlands in 1992. She later restored her Dutch citizenship.

Once a devout Muslim, Ms Ali, 36, rose to international prominence after writing a film script for the director Theo van Gogh in 2004, criticising the treatment of women under Islam. Mr Van Gogh was murdered later that year by a fanatical Islamist and Ms Ali has since been threatened with 'execution' by Islamist extremists.

Ms Ali, who was born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya has accused her Dutch tormentors of displaying an attitude of 'appeasement'.

She lives in an apartment with bulletproof windows and has armed guards who vary their route every day to avoid hitmen. An unexpected menace against Ms Ali was a high profile legal campaign to evict her on the grounds that the presence of a well-known terrorist target was undermining property values. A Dutch court agreed with the neighbours and ordered her out of the building.

Ms Ali resigned as MP in May and announced she was going to emigrate to the US. Her decision came amidst growing public unease with her willingness to denounce radical Islam as well as conventional Muslim practices like arranged marriages.

Many in the Netherlands believed that she was too provocative in a country that can sometimes put a higher value on compromise than principle.

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