Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has announced the collapse of his government amid a row over troop deployments in Afghanistan.
The centre-right premier wants a reduced Dutch force to stay on in the war-torn country as NATO tries to contain Taliban rebels. But his biggest coalition partner, the Labour Party, insists Dutch soldiers be withdrawn this year, as planned.
They were first deployed in Afghanistan in 2006. The Dutch mission, mainly in Uruzgan province, is scheduled to end in August.
NATO has asked the Netherlands to consider a longer stay but, after marathon talks, the two biggest parties in the government failed to agree.
Around 2,000 Dutch soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan. In the last four years, 21 have died there.
The fall of the government virtually guarantees a Dutch military withdrawal this year as well as early elections. Opinion polls indicate right-winger Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party could become the biggest political group in parliament.
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