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.


German city of Hamburg ato restrict older diesel vehicles

A car passes a traffic sign showing a ban on diesel cars at the Max-Brauer Allee in downtown Hamburg, Germany, on May 23, 2018. (REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer)
Updated 28 min 10 sec ago
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German city of Hamburg ato restrict older diesel vehicles

  • Diesel bans will affect two streets, non-Euro-6 models
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has long sought to avoid bans, as has the VDA auto industry lobby representing carmakers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.

BERLIN: Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, will ban the most polluting diesel vehicles from two major streets from next week, a move that could spur others to follow suit and raise pressure on carmakers to consider costly vehicle refits.
Hamburg, home to around 1.8 million people, said on Wednesday the ban would start on May 31 and affect diesel models that do not meet the latest Euro-6 emissions standards.
This follows a ruling in February by Germany’s top administrative court that the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf should consider bans for older diesels.
The detailed publication of that ruling last Friday showed local authorities were entitled to implement targeted bans with immediate effect to bring air pollution levels into line with European Union rules, although curbs affecting wider city areas should only be phased in over time.
Bans on diesel vehicles from city centers are also planned in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to bar new diesel cars from entering the city center as soon as next year.
Since the German ruling was disclosed, the environment minister of Germany’s northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, has said banning older diesel vehicles could also be an option for the regional capital Kiel, a city of about 250,000 people.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has long sought to avoid bans, as has the VDA auto industry lobby representing carmakers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.
Environment Minister Svenja Schulze — a member of the Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government — urged carmakers to roll out retrofits for diesel cars to lower emissions. “Driving bans like those in Hamburg show how serious the situation is,” she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It’s up to the car industry now.”
Levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by diesel engines and known to cause respiratory disease should fall significantly as more efficient Euro-6 models are sold and emissions-cleaning software updates take effect, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
The bans in Hamburg affect a section of about 1.6 km (one mile) on Stresemannstrasse, where the restrictions will apply only to commercial vehicles weighing 3.5 tons or more, and a section of about 580 meters on Max-Brauer-Allee, covering all diesel vehicles.
Both thoroughfares are in Altona, a busy district in the west of the city.
Drivers aiming for a destination on the two affected streets, including residents, trash collectors, suppliers and taxis, will be exempt from the restrictions as they are designed to filter out through traffic, a spokesman for Hamburg’s environment and energy department said.
Of the 330,000 diesel cars on Hamburg’s roads, only about 116,000 have the Euro-6 technology that was introduced in 2014, according to local government data.
Police will make random checks and fine drivers of older diesel cars 25 euros ($30) and truck owners up to 75 euros for violating the new rules, he said.