Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Dutch ministers lodge resignations following fire report

AFP , THE HAGUE

Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner and Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker resigned on Thursday after an independent report blasted their departments for negligence in a deadly fire at a detention center in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport last year.

The ministers announced their resignation in a short declaration to parliament after a report released earlier on Thursday concluded that their ministries were partly to blame for the deadly outcome of the blaze in the detention center that left 11 illegal immigrants dead in October last year.

"Ministerial responsibility means that in the eyes of the victims I represent the departments whose actions are said to have contributed to their suffering ... It is for me to show that this is not without consequences," Donner said.

In its report, the independent Dutch Safety Board said that "there would have been fewer or no victims if fire safety had gotten the attention of the authorities involved."

"The [justice ministry] is the primary responsible party ... They are responsible for the safety of their employees and the people that are detained," said the board, chaired by Pieter van Vollenhoven.

It added that the housing ministry, which oversaw the detention center's construction, had also failed because the site did not comply with the government's own fire safety rules.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the safety board's conclusions were "harsh and crystal clear."

"I have great respect for the decision the ministers took," he added.

The resignations are largely symbolic as political commentators said it would have little effect on the current center-right government, which faces a legislative election on Nov. 22.

Donner and Dekker said that had they not stepped down, the parliamentary debate on the Schiphol fire report would probably focus only on whether or not they would resign.

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