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Dutch Leader Survives Confidence Vote After Minister Admits Lying About Putin


Former Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra
Former Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte overwhelmingly survived a late-night vote of no-confidence just hours after his foreign minister quit, admitting he had lied about attending a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned on February 13 after acknowledging before parliament that he had lied about personally hearing Putin speak in 2006 about plans to create a "Greater Russia" in Europe.

Opposition legislators who were outraged about Zijlstra's deception had offered a rare no-confidence motion in the lower house of parliament, but it was strongly rejected by 101-43.

In response to legislators' questions, Rutte explained before the vote why he had not informed parliament about Zijlstra's false claims.

"I didn't think this affair would have such a political fallout. I underestimated the impact of this lie," he said.

Rutte had previously defended Zijlstra, saying his warnings about Russian expansionism rang true.

"If you look at what Russia has done in the past 10 to 15 years, the policy that they have followed, you must say that it's aimed at expansion," Rutte said, citing Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support for separatists battling Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine.

Zijlstra said his credibility had been so damaged by the affair that it was impossible for him to continue in his post.

Zijlstra had claimed he attended a 2006 meeting where Putin said he considered Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states to be part of "Greater Russia."

On February 12, Zijlstra conceded he wasn't present at the meeting but heard the story from somebody who was.

He said he considered Putin's statements so geopolitically important that he spoke about them publicly and took credit for hearing the comments as a way of protecting his source.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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