Dutch foreign minister quits over lie about meeting Putin

image copyrightEPA
image captionForeign Minister Halbe Zijlstra (r) told Dutch MPs and PM Mark Rutte (l) that his credibility had been damaged

The Dutch foreign minister has stepped down on Tuesday after admitting he lied about being in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Halbe Zijlstra announced his decision tearfully in parliament, after MPs had summoned him to explain himself.

During his campaign for the March 2017 election, Mr Zijlstra claimed he had personally heard Mr Putin speak of creating a "Greater Russia" in 2006.

The Dutch minister was just hours away from an official trip to Moscow.

"I see no other option today than to hand in my resignation to his majesty the King," said Mr Zijlstra a day after admitting his lie.

Later on Tuesday Prime Minister Mark Rutte easily survived a vote of no confidence, after it was revealed the prime minister learned the truth weeks ago but failed to tell parliament.

Mr Rutte's coalition has a majority of only one seat, but he won the vote - instigated by his political rival the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders - by 101 votes to 43.

Speaking about his resignation, Mr Zijlstra said that with hindsight, he had made the biggest mistake of his political career and that the Netherlands deserved a foreign minister that was above all doubt.

But while acknowledging that his actions were stupid, Mr Zijlstra has continued to say that Mr Putin did actually speak those words and that by lying he was purely trying to protect a source who had been present at the gathering.

He had only been foreign minister for four months.

The Russian embassy in The Netherlands has previously complained about Mr Zijlstra's statement and accused Dutch officials of constantly making unfounded claims about Russia.

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