Dutch foreign minister resigns after lying about Putin meeting

Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra leaves the Dutch parliament Tweede Kamer after he announced his resignation in The Hague on February 13, 2018, after admitting he had lied about his presence at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Dutch foreign minister resigns after lying about Putin meeting

THE HAGUE: New Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned Tuesday, after admitting he had lied about his presence at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I see no other option today than to hand in my resignation to his majesty the King,” a tearful Zijlstra told MPs in a hastily-called session of parliament.
Zijlstra had only been in post for four months, and the dramatic events came just hours before he was due to leave on an official trip to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“This is by far the biggest mistake I have made in my career,” he admitted to Dutch politicians in the lower house of parliament, watched by Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
He had been due to meet Wednesday with Lavrov to discuss among other things the 2014 downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by a missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels over Ukraine.
The tragedy in which all 298 people on board died, most of them Dutch, has soured ties, and led to accusations that Moscow is not presenting all the evidence it has to a Dutch-led criminal inquiry.
Stepping down, Zijlstra told MPs Tuesday that the credibility of the country’s foreign minister must be “beyond doubt, both inside and outside of the country.”
His resignation came after his claims to have attended a meeting 12 years ago with Putin in his dacha which included Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s former chief executive were revealed on Monday to be false.
“I have spoken about an incident of great importance, saying I was there in person, while that was not the case,” Zijlstra told MPS on Tuesday.
“I wanted to tell this story convincingly without revealing my source was obviously the wrong choice. I should not have done it. I am sorry.”
A former Shell contractor, Zijlstra had told members of his Liberal VVD party at a congress in May 2016 that he was there “in the background as an assistant.”
During the meeting Putin allegedly spoke about his definition of a “Greater Russia.”
“I clearly heard Vladimir Putin’s answer about what his understanding was of ‘Greater Russia’,” Zijlstra told the audience.
Putin “wants to go back to a ‘Greater Russia’ and his answer was that it included Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States,” he said at the time.
Zijlstra’s appointment in October as foreign minister within Rutte’s fragile four-party coalition government had raised eyebrows because of his perceived lack of diplomatic credentials.
But the Volkskrant said “his spin doctors” had used the story of the Putin meeting “to ward off criticism about his lack of foreign experience.


Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

Updated 32 min 30 sec ago
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Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

  • The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly
  • With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with modern equipment

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba: The controversial Guantanamo Bay prison still houses 40 aging inmates — and with no plans to close it, many of them will probably remain there until they die.
The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly — the oldest inmate is 71 — so the prison with a history of torture has taken on some airs of a geriatric facility.
The US Army — directed to ensure Guantanamo can stay open at least another 25 years — has revamped parts of the institution home to terror suspects to include a dedicated medical center and operating rooms.
“There has been a lot of thought put into what preparing for an aging detainee population looks like and what infrastructure we need to have in place to do that safely and humanely,” said Anne Leanos, the public affairs director for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with a radiology room equipped with an MRI scanner, as well as an emergency room and three-bed intensive care unit.
During a journalist visit to the new clinic, a walker sits in the corner of a room, which has a hospital bed, wheelchair and medical equipment akin to any other infirmary.
But there is no window, and wire mesh serves as a partition, recalling that this is still very much a detention center.
Congress will not allow sick prisoners to travel to the United States for treatment: Guantanamo inmates are considered highly dangerous by the government, which accuses them of participating in various attacks including those of September 11.
No prisoner needs a wheelchair yet — but if the need arises, the clinic is prepared with ramps.
Patients suffer from ailments common for their age: diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal diseases and motor disorders.
The second-floor psychiatric ward is equipped with two cells converted into consultation rooms.
A third, completely empty cell is padded and serves as the isolation room for prisoners experiencing psychotic episodes.
Like any staff deployed to Guantanamo, prison psychiatrists usually stay just nine to 12 months on site, limiting the scope of their interaction with prisoners.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits Guantanamo about four times a year to make sure the prison is complying with detention standards and to assess detainees’ treatment.
Since the infamous detention center opened in 2002, nine inmates have died: seven committed suicide, according to the military, while one died of cancer and another had a heart attack.
The largest contingent — 26 inmates — at the military complex have never been charged with anything, but are considered too dangerous to be released.
One “highly compliant” inmate was on a “non-religious fast,” at the moment of the visit — a euphemism used at the prison to describe hunger strikes prisoners regularly observe in protest.
Acts of rebellion are fairly common — and base commander Admiral John Ring said one inmate was currently under disciplinary action.
“These are the ones that could not be released,” said Ring. “Many of these gentlemen are still at war with the United States.
“Any act of resistance, no matter how small — they are still fighting the war through these minor acts of resistance.”