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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Dutch minister resigns within hours
CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende and his wife
The strength of Balkenende's coalition is in doubt
The new Dutch coalition government has lost its first minister within hours of taking office, renewing questions about its stability.

Philomena Bijlhout resigned over revelations she had lied about her links to the former military dictatorship in the South American state of Surinam, where she was born.

Philomena Bijlhout
Philomena Bijlhout was only in her position for a few hours
Ms Bijlhout was a member of the populist party Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), which was led by the anti-immigration politician until his murder shortly before May's election.

Her resignation has dealt an early blow to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's new government, which had already been facing questions about its stability.

Mr Balkenende is facing the twin challenges of a poor economy and a coalition including the inexperienced LPF.

'Incorrect information'

Ms Bijlhout, a junior minister for emancipation and family affairs, stepped down after Dutch television channel RTL-4 showed photographs of her in Surinam military uniform.

The pictures, which date from 1983, show she was still a member of an armed militia backing military leader Desi Bouterse at the time of the so-called "December murders", in which 15 opponents of the country's military junta were assassinated in December 1982.


Losing a secretary of state the first day in office doesn't speak much for credibility

Algemeen Dagblad newspaper
Ms Bijlhout had never denied being a member of the Surinam militia, but she had said she left it a year and a half before the murders.

"I gave incorrect information to Prime Minister Balkenende," Ms Bijlhout said in a statement before tendering her resignation to Queen Beatrix.

"I don't want to burden the new cabinet with this issue and I therefore decided to tender my resignation," she added.

'Sad drama'

Prime Minister Balkenende called the event a "sad drama" but said it was "inevitable" given her misleading statements.

The Christian Democrat (CDA) leader's cabinet members were anxious to emphasise her resignation was purely a personal affair, and would not damage the new coalition.

Pim Fortuyn
The party of murdered Pim Fortuyn has a key position in the coalition
"It is simply a skeleton in the closet," said fellow LPF member Jim Janssen van Raaij. "That has nothing to do with any kind of political instability in the government."

But the paper Algemeen Dagblad said: "Losing a secretary of state the first day in office doesn't speak much for credibility."

In his last interview as leader, outgoing Prime Minister Wim Kok also warned the new coalition may be short-lived.

"There is a potential lack of stability," he said on Sunday.

Mr Balkenende has taken over from Mr Kok to become the Netherlands' first Christian Democrat prime minister in eight years.

His new coalition government consists of the CDA, the LPF and the free-market VVD party.


Key stories

Background

Fortuyn shooting

FACTFILE

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See also:

22 Jul 02 | Europe
04 Jul 02 | Europe
16 May 02 | Europe
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