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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 16:35 GMT
Dutch coalition eases migrant law
Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende
Jan Peter Balkenende is expected to remain prime minister
The new centrist coalition in the Netherlands has announced an amnesty for thousands of illegal immigrants.

Christian Democratic leader Jan Peter Balkenende said those who had arrived before 2001 would be allowed to stay.

The move is expected to ease tough immigration laws approved by the former centre-right administration.

Mr Balkenende is due to remain as PM. His Christian Democrats were forced to team up with Labour and the Christian Union after November's elections.

The programme of the new coalition was unveiled by Mr Balkenende, Labour leader Wouter Bos and Christian Union leader Andre Rouvoet.

Correspondents say the amnesty will lead to more than 30,000 failed asylum seekers being granted residency.

Mr Balkenende said the move was "tough" for his party, but added that the overall coalition deal would open "a new chapter in Dutch politics".

The agreement also included increased spending on health care, education and regenerating urban areas.

The previous administration collapsed in June after a row over the handling of the disputed citizenship of Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The new coalition was formed after the Christian Democrats' partners, the Liberals, lost ground in the November elections.

The immigration issue had gripped Dutch politics since the murders of two prominent campaigners against Muslim extremism - independent politician Pim Fortuyn and film-maker Theo van Gogh.

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