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Dutch PM Rutte narrowly survives no-confidence vote

 Mark Rutte during the debate in parliament on 1 April 2021

Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte has narrowly survived a vote of no confidence over his conduct during talks to form a governing coalition.

But he remains under pressure after parliament adopted a formal motion of disapproval which noted he had not "spoken the truth" during the talks.

Mr Rutte is accused of lying about moves to sideline a troublesome MP.

"Parliament has given me a serious message and I will try my very best to win back confidence," Mr Rutte said.

The 54-year-old has been in office for more than a decade and has been dubbed "Teflon Mark" for his ability to survive scandals.

However, almost the entire house of parliament backed the disapproval motion against him and his biggest coalition partner, Sigrid Kaag, said it was not clear to her that he would continue in charge of forming a new government.

Mr Rutte's centre-right VVD party won the most seats in parliamentary elections just two weeks ago, and he was in talks to form a new coalition.

Pieter Omtzigt in the Hague on 10 February 2021IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionPieter Omtzigt has been an outspoken critic of the prime minister

The scandal centres around the MP Pieter Omtzigt, whose Christian Democratic Appeal party formed part of the previous coalition.

Mr Omtzigt, a frequent critic of Mr Rutte, had helped expose a child welfare fraud scandal that led to the government resigning in January, ahead of elections in March.

His name appeared, alongside the words "position elsewhere", in a document from the coalition talks that was photographed being carried by one of the chief negotiators as she rushed out of parliament having tested positive for Covid-19.

Amid speculation that Mr Rutte planned to sideline the popular MP, the prime minister initially denied discussing the issue.

However on Thursday he admitted that he had "remembered that wrong" saying only that he had been reminded of the conversation after receiving a phone call earlier in the day, and insisting: "I did not lie".

media captionTurnout was high in an election dominated by Covid

The vote followed more than 12 hours of debate during which Mr Rutte's credibility and integrity were questioned by his fellow MPs.

The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague says that although Mr Rutte has managed to cling on to his job, he has been wounded by the vote.

The damage to his premiership will have an impact on the shape and direction of the new coalition government, she notes.

Sigrid Kaag, whose centre-left D66 party was runner-up in last month's elections, said she was unsure about joining a new government with Mr Rutte. "My confidence in him has been severely damaged. I blame him for that."

She and Wopke Hoekstra of the Christian Democrats submitted the disapproval motion against Mr Rutte, even though their parties had backed him in the confidence vote.

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