Exit poll: Dutch PM Rutte beats anti-Islam leader Wilders

PVV leader Geert Wilders looked like he failed the year’s first litmus test for populism in Europe. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2017

Exit poll: Dutch PM Rutte beats anti-Islam leader Wilders

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday was moving toward a dominating parliamentary election victory over anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who looked like he failed the year’s first litmus test for populism in Europe. 
The Netherlands’ main exit poll suggests Rutte’s party won 31 seats in the 150-place legislature, 12 more than Wilders’ party, which shared second place with two other parties.
“I am so proud at what has happened and happy that we have been given the trust again” by voters, Tamara van Ark, campaign leader of Rutte’s liberal VVD party said.
With France and Germany facing elections in the months ahead, Rutte hoped to slow the momentum of what he called the “wrong sort of populism” after last’s year British vote to leave the European Union and the election of US President Donald Trump.
“This is a chance for a big democracy like the Netherlands to make a point to stop this toppling over of the domino stones” of populism, Rutte said after voting.
Wilders had insisted that whatever the result of Wednesday’s election, the kind of populist politics he and others in Europe represent aren’t going away.
“Rutte has not seen the back of me!!” Wilders said in a Twitter reaction.
Under brilliant skies, the Dutch went to vote in huge numbers, with turnout estimated to have reached at 82 percent.
In a subplot of the elections, the Dutch Labour Party of Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem appeared to have been punished by voters in the election, plunging from 38 seats at the last election to just nine, according to the Ipsos exit poll.
Because of the result, it looked unlikely Dijsselbloem would be able to hang on to his post of leading the 19-nation Eurogroup, which manages the currency of the European Union nations that use the euro.
Rutte had framed the election as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of the nation’s economic recovery and casting Wilders as a far-right radical who was unprepared to make tough decisions.
The chance of Wilders becoming prime minister in the Netherlands, where a proportional representation voting system all but guarantees coalition governments, was remote, even if his party had placed first in the election.
All mainstream parties, including Rutte’s VVD, had ruled out working with Wilders and his Party for Freedom.
Wilders’ one-page election manifesto included pledges to close borders to immigrants from Muslim nations, shutter mosques and ban the Qur’an, as well as to take the Netherlands out of the European Union.
The campaign’s final days were overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments.
It erupted over the refusal of the Netherlands to let two Turkish government ministers address rallies about a referendum next month that could give Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers.
The crisis nevertheless gave Rutte an opportunity to refuse to bow to foreign pressure, a stance with widespread backing in the nation.
“It is my task to keep the nation safe and stable and deal with these kinds of people,” Rutte said.
Rutte has driven through unpopular austerity measures over the last four years, but the Dutch economic recovery has gathered pace and unemployment has fallen fast.
Wilders, meanwhile, tapped into discontent among voters who say they are not benefiting from economic recovery.
The left-leaning Dutch Labour Party appeared to be hammered by its supporters for its role over the last four years in pushing through a tough austerity package as junior member in a two-party Cabinet with Rutte’s VVD.


MH17 probe reveals close ties between Russia, Ukraine rebels

Updated 14 November 2019

MH17 probe reveals close ties between Russia, Ukraine rebels

  • The Joint Investigation Team issued a fresh appeal for witnesses and revealed details of secure communications between Russian officials and rebels

THE HAGUE: An international team of investigators piecing together a criminal case in the July 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine said Thursday that evidence suggests links between Russia and separatists in the region were closer than previously believed.
The Joint Investigation Team issued a fresh appeal for witnesses and revealed details of secure communications between Russian officials and rebels in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) rebel group in eastern Ukraine.
“The JIT has information that indicates that the influence of the Russian Federation extended to administrative, financial and military matters in the DPR,” the team said in a statement, adding that contacts between Russia and the rebels intensified in the first half of July 2014.
“There was almost daily telephone contact between the leadership of the DPR and their contacts in the Russian Federation,” the JIT said. “They spoke with leaders in Moscow, near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea. Communication mostly took place via secure telephones provided by the Russian security service.”
In June, the investigators announced they had charged four people, including three Russians, with murder over the July 17, 2014, downing of Flight MH17. All 298 passengers and crew on board the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight were killed.
The suspects are due to go on trial in a secure courtroom near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in March, though they are not in custody and will likely be tried in their absence.
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the downing.
But investigators said their probe revealed that “Russian influence on the DPR went beyond military support.”
The team, made up of detectives and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, last year said it was convinced that the Buk missile system used to shoot down flight MH17 came from the Russian army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.
The team said Thursday it is looking for witnesses “who can share information about those who controlled the DPR leadership in Donetsk and commanded the deployment of the Buk” missile system.
“The indications for close ties between leaders of the DPR and Russian government officials raise questions about their possible involvement in the deployment” of the missile, the investigators said.