Crisis talks resume for Dutch coalition partners

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2014 7:49 AM
Crisis talks resume for Dutch coalition partners

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Crisis talks aimed at salvaging a cost-cutting Dutch health reform package and staving off the possible collapse of the country's 2-year-old ruling coalition entered a third day Thursday.

The future of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's two-party coalition was hanging in the balance amid private discussions aimed at rescuing health care reforms intended to shave 1 billion euros ($1.25 billion) off government spending. The package was rejected Tuesday partly because of the votes of three senators from the Labor Party, a junior coalition partner.

The Cabinet, made up of Rutte's pro-free market Liberal Party and center-left Labor, is an uneasy alliance because of ideological differences, but both parties have slumped in the polls since taking office in 2012 and wouldn't relish new elections early next year.

One senior government lawmaker sounded optimistic a solution could be brokered.

"There is certainly progress," Liberal Party parliamentary leader Halbe Zijlstra told reporters without giving details of a possible way out of the crisis.

Dutch media reported that Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher of the Labor Party visited one of the three senators who voted down the health reforms before joining Rutte in his office for further talks.

Anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders' Freedom Party leads polls. Prosecutors in The Hague announced Thursday they plan to press hate speech charges against Wilders for remarks including a chant at a postelection rally in which he asked his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.

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The announcement marked the second time Wilders has faced charges linked to his anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric. He was acquitted of similar charges in 2011.

In a written statement, Wilders said he "said what millions of people think and believe" and added that authorities "should concentrate on prosecuting jihadis instead of me."