Dutch government decides to resign

Published July 1, 2006

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The Dutch government resigned Friday over a failed attempt to strip a prominent Somali-born critic of Islam of her Dutch citizenship - setting the stage for elections likely to be dominated by immigration issues.

The smallest party in the ruling coalition, D-66, brought down the government when it refused Thursday to work with hard-line Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk and accused her of damaging the country's reputation with her bungled attempt to revoke the passport of former lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende visited Queen Beatrix on Friday morning to tell her of his government's decision to resign. No date for elections was announced.

The collapse of Balkenende's 3-year-old conservative government underscored divisions among the Dutch about whether their strict immigration policies have gone too far or not far enough.

Once considered one of Europe's most welcoming nations for immigrants and asylum seekers, the Netherlands is deeply divided over moves by Verdonk to stem the tide of new arrivals and compel immigrants to assimilate into Dutch society.

Verdonk has mandated citizenship classes for immigrants, has jailed asylum seekers while their cases are handled and has deported 26,000 illegal immigrants.

Verdonk triggered the scandal that eventually brought down Balkenende's administration when she tried to revoke Hirsi Ali's passport for falsifying her name to escape an arranged marriage when she applied for asylum in 1992.

Hirsi Ali, 36, resigned her seat, but Parliament ordered Verdonk to reconsider her decision. On Tuesday, Verdonk reversed it, using a loophole: Under Somali law, Hirsi Ali's false name was technically legal because it was her grandfather's family name.

Hirsi Ali has lived under death threats since the murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in 2004. She wrote the screenplay for his film Submission, which criticized the treatment of women under Islam.

She now plans to move to Washington, to join the conservative American Enterprise Institute think-tank.

Despite the political fallout, polls in the Netherlands showed a majority thought Verdonk was right to apply the same rules to Hirsi Ali as other asylum seekers.