Dutch minister attends Armenian genocide commemorations for first time

Junior finance minister Menno Snel attended a ceremony to mark the Armenian genocide on behalf the Dutch parliament on Tuesday. Parliament voted in February almost unanimously in favour or recognising the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Only Denk voted against the motion. The government then agreed to send a minister to the commemoration of the Armenian genocide in Yerevan, in line with parliament’s wishes, without formally recognising the genocide as such. ‘By attending the commemoration we are showing our respect for the terrible events done to minorities, in the same way that the government attends the commemoration of the Dutch slavery history,’ Sigrid Kaag said during a debate on the issue. Snel declined to speak to reporters after the ceremony, broadcaster NOS said, and correspondent Xander van der Wulp said he appeared extremely uneasy. The Dutch government officially refers to the killings as ‘the question of the Armenian genocide’, rather than outright as genocide.  More >

Maltese tourist cleared of bomb charges

An Intercity train. A 45-year-old tourist from Malta has been found not guilty of making a hoax bomb report about a train to Germany at the end of last year. Judges in Almelo ruled the man, named as Steven S, had not made a hoax bomb threat because he did not mention a bomb or explosives in his phone call. Nor was any threat made against NS staff or passengers. S had told the NS customer service phone line that his girlfriend had left a letter  warning that she wanted to commit a terrorist attack and was, at that moment, on the international train to Berlin. The call led to a major security alert and the train was evacuated near Oldenzaal while police checked it for explosives. The phone call, transcribed in court documents, included S saying: 'My girlfriend is [name] from Malta... She is very very dangerous. She is radicalised. She is planning an attack. She left a note “I will destroy everybody in Europe”. She is sitting on the train to München or Berlin.' Two days after the warning, S turned himself into the police and confessed to making up the entire story. He had done so because his girlfriend had gone away angry because of his drinking and drug-taking, the court documents show. The public prosecution department had called for him to be jailed for one year, eight months suspended, and fined €20,000.  More >

Dutch royals most expensive: republicans

A report that was two years in the making shows that the royal family is a much heavier burden on the public purse than is officially acknowledged, according to the Dutch republican society Republikeins Genootschap. The official figure, which is made public every budget day, hovers around the €60m mark but, basing itself on anonymous civil servant sources and whistle blowing site ‘Willileaks’, republicans claims the true costs are nearer €350m. That would make the Dutch royal family by far the most expensive royal family in Europe. The society says there are many hidden costs, such as the upkeep of palaces, and the fact that the royal family don’t pay rent which should  be taken into account. Many embassies, moreover, have special rooms to accommodate royal guests that stand empty most of the time. Security costs are not in the public domain but, says researcher and editor of the Republican magazine René Zwaap, some €40m is spent each year on keeping the king, his wife and his mother safe. The main is reason the royals cost so much, however, is that they hardly pay any tax over their €12bn fortune. In a reaction to broadcaster NOS a spokesperson for the royal family said the report was based on ‘conjecture’ and ‘factually untrue’ because the king does pay tax. The royals do not give out any information regarding their private fortune. Zwaap himself says in the report that he has used ‘creative methods’ to sustain his claims but that if should they prove false ‘the royal family is welcome to correct them.’  More >

Funeral sector still lacks transparency

The Dutch funeral sector is extremely vague about the costs of funerals, according to research by consumer association Consumentenbond. The Consumentenbond asked 180 undertakers across the country about their basic rates for funerals and additional services such as printing cards, laying out the body, transport and renting crematoriums. Some 90% of the companies refused to answer questions about their rates, citing lack of time or interest. Of the 180 firms contacted, 75 do not have any information about rates on their websites, the Consumentenbond found. A survey among 1,700 Consumentenbond panel members confirms the lack of transparency. A quarter of the respondents said they were not told what the total costs of the funeral would be. In many cases costs were not discussed at all or only when explicitly requested. Unexpected costs, which only became apparent after the funeral, are not unusual either. Ten things about death in the Netherlands The consumer group studied the survey requests filled in by 20 funeral firms and the limited online information. It concluded that the basic fee for a funeral ranges from 2985 to €2,550, while flowers cost from €45 to €150. An oak coffin varied in price from €375 to €1,185. Rates should be put online, the Consumentenbond said so people know where they are. ‘Consumers have enough to worry about when they have to arrange a funeral,’ Consumentenbond director Bart Combée said.  More >

Dutch men arrested for Prague attack

Seven Dutch men have been arrested in Prague for beating up a waiter at a city centre cafe, Czech media said on Tuesday. The seven were caught on video attacking the man, who reportedly told them they could not drink their own alcohol while sitting on the cafe terrace. Czech media say the waiter was hospitalised after the attack and has undergone an operation. The attack received widespread coverage in the Czech media and the men were spotted at Prague airport on Monday evening and arrested. The Dutch foreign ministry has confirmed the arrests but said the men did not want consular assistance. The AD said later on Tuesday that two of the men had been released.  More >

Mobile phone tram payment plan flops

Tests of a system to allow travellers to pay for public transport by mobile phone have proved a flop, Translink, the company behind the public transport smart card, said on Tuesday. The project was launched in May 2017 but by June the introduction was described as chaotic. Translink director Arco Groothedde told the AD at the time: ‘The first few days were worthless. I can’t say anything else.’ Some 5,000 people pressed on with the project, which allowed subscribers to Vodafone, KPN, Telfort, Simyo and Yes Telecom to swipe their phones at check-in points rather than use their OV chip card. While people who got the app to work were relatively happy with the system, the plug is now being pulled. Translink spokesman Maarten Bijl said on Tuesday: 'This technology is not suitable to be rolled out further. A test can fail as well. That is part of innovation.'  More >

Afsluitdijk faces four-year rennovation

The Afsluitdijk, the 32 kilometre dyke which links the provinces of Noord-Holland and Friesland, is to undergo an extensive programme of maintenance, starting at the end of this year. The overhaul is necessary because sea water levels are rising and there is an increasing risk of extreme weather, the infrastructure ministry's road department said. In addition, too much water is entering the IJsselmeer lake from the rivers inland. The dyke will be clad in 75,000 concrete blocks each weighing 6,500 kilos and produced at a special factory in Harlingen. The locks will be strengthened as well and new pumping stations will be built to get rid of superfluous water. The project will cost €555m and will be finished in 2022. It’s the first time in 85 years the Afsluitdijk, which was opened to traffic in 1933, will undergo such extensive work. ‘We put the dyke through its paces every six years and a number of years ago it became clear that it isn’t strong enough,’ project manager Joost van de Beek told broadcaster NOS. The renovation will ensure the dyke’s safety until 2050, the ministry said.  It will not be closed off during the work but there will be some disruption to traffic and one of the two traffic lanes will be closed for a total of two years.  More >