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Dutch report
by Euro Reporter
2013-05-22 11:29:47
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Netherlands school shooting threat: police arrest suspect in Leiden

Dutch police say they have arrested a suspect in an online threat to shoot a teacher and students that prompted authorities to close all the high schools in the city of Leiden. Hague police spokeswoman Yvette Verboon confirmed the arrest Monday but would give no further details of the identity of the suspect.

Verboon says police are "investigating his involvement" in the threat that was discovered Sunday. Police announced the school closures late Sunday, saying they do not want to take any risks while the person who posted the threat remains unknown.

Mayor Henri Lenferink told Dutch television "it could be a morbid joke" but authorities do not want to risk children's lives. Shooting rampages are rare in the Netherlands, where gun ownership is tightly controlled.


A King takes the throne, and a nation celebrates

To the cheers of tens of thousands of people crammed shoulder to shoulder outside the royal palace here, Willem-Alexander of the House of Orange-Nassau became the Netherlands’ first king in 123 years on Tuesday as his mother, Queen Beatrix, ended a 33-year reign with the stroke of a pen, signing the act of abdication in an ornate chamber at the palace. Seated on a gilded chair and flanked by the Dutch cabinet, Beatrix, 75, became the third successive Dutch queen to abdicate, changing her title to princess as supporters celebrating the continuity of the monarchy thronged Dam Square outside the palace. Many had gathered for hours, clad in orange, the royal colour, to watch the brief, long-planned and relatively low-key event on large television screens. The day’s events, a mix of tightly choreographed official pageantry and boisterous street parties across Amsterdam, helped lift the gloom created by a slumping economy, unpopular austerity measures and growing public recognition that, as the new king noted in an afternoon address, “it now seems less self-evident that the next generation will be better off than the last.”

Dressed in an orange suit, Bart Koops, an executive at a bed company and a fervent royalist, joined the throng of other revellers early on Tuesday. “Monarchy is what unites us and makes us Dutch,” Mr. Koops said. “This is a great day.”  He added: “The monarchy is a point of stability and unity. Politicians just fight each other.”  In contrast to the British royal family, he said, Dutch royals are far less formal, and they are in tune with the open, easygoing spirit of the Netherlands. “Look at the countries that don’t have royalty,” he said. “They are missing something.”  Beatrix announced in January that she would step down to make way for a younger generation. After signing the formal declaration of abdication shortly after 10 a.m., Beatrix, the new king and his Argentine-born wife emerged onto a flower-bedecked balcony to cheers from the crowd. Church bells rang out across the city. In the early afternoon, the crowd in Dam Square roared as King Willem-Alexander, trailing a long fur-trimmed cape, and his wife, Queen Maxima, entered the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, next to the royal palace for the investiture ceremony. Unlike royal rituals in England, there was no religious blessing or coronation. Paying tribute to his mother and promising to continue her course, Willem-Alexander, 46, stressed the need to respect diversity and promised that “however varied our backgrounds, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands everyone can have a voice and can contribute to society on an equal footing.”

He also acknowledged his subjects’ growing economic woes as the country’s once robust economy struggles with its third recession since 2009. Populist politicians have exploited this pain to press demands that the Netherlands halt immigration and crack down on welfare payments to foreign-born residents.  “I succeed to the throne at a time when many in the kingdom feel vulnerable and uncertain,” he said, according to an official translation of his remarks. “Vulnerable in their jobs or their health. Uncertain about their income or the environment in which they live.”  Before the swearing-in ceremony, the former queen clutched the hands of her son and daughter-in-law before the national anthem was played. “Some moments ago I abdicated from the throne,” Beatrix said, seeming to struggle with tears. “I am happy and thankful to present to you your new king.” Some of the cheers for the royal trio reflected the popularity of the new queen, who had a career as an investment banker before marrying Willem-Alexander in 2002, adding a dash of glamour and romance to an otherwise low-key and at times dowdy royal family.

More recently, Willem-Alexander has recovered from a scandal over his purchase of a holiday villa in Mozambique, which he sold last year. He is now widely seen as a sober-minded and responsible professional with a knack for connecting with ordinary people, Dutch experts said, but is also regarded as far less cerebral than his mother. He has mostly kept his views on society and politics to himself. The new king is also Europe’s youngest monarch, and as such he has vowed that he and Queen Maxima, 41, will not be “protocol fetishists.” Dutch news media reported that the queen will attend the opening of a conference this summer on same-sex marriage, which has been legal here for years. On Tuesday, an anti-monarchist, Hans Maessen, stood in Dam Square waving a sign saying, “No Monarchy, More Democracy.” Instead of sporting orange like those around him, he wore a white shirt that said, “I Don’t Want Him.” He conceded that the balance of opinion was running against his cause but said even republicans liked a good party.


Debt becoming serious problem in Netherlands

With the third highest inflation rate in the EU, one household in seven in the Netherlands is unable to pay its bills, while the main earners are facing health problems due to worry and sleepless nights, according to a new survey from the country’s Association of Court Bailiffs. Although the Netherlands is one of the five EU countries to retain its AAA international credit rating, a blizzard of worrying statistics this week led the Association for Debt Relief and Social Banking to warn that debt was now “a broad social problem” which had become “firmly rooted in society”. The latest inflation figures show that although there was a drop from 3.2 per cent in March to 2.8 per cent in April, this remained well above the euro zone average of 1.2 per cent – leaving the Netherlands behind only Estonia on 3.4 per cent and Romania on 4.4 per cent.

Ironically, the Central Bureau of Statistics says increases in insurance tax and value added tax – both introduced when the new Liberal-Labour coalition government came to power last October – have been significant contributory factors to the high inflation rate. An increase in the excise duty at the same time also means that the Netherlands now has the most expensive petrol in Europe, averaging €1.78 a litre, according to the German motoring organisation, ADAC. The cost of diesel is the third highest in Europe at €1.44 a litre. The mood of economic gloom is not being helped either by the fact that more than one million of the country’s 4.2 million owner-occupied houses is now in negative equity – with six in 10 of the owners of those “underwater” properties under the age of 40.

The estate agents’ association, NVM, said the number of houses changing hands fell a massive 30 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, making it the worst quarter on record. The number of properties sold in April fell 26.6 per cent compared to March and 20.4 per cent compared to April 2012. Uncertainty in the workplace is also increasing, as King Willem-Alexander acknowledged on the day of his investiture three weeks ago. New figures last night showed that 10 per cent of the working population was now self-employed, with another 16 per cent on short-term or flexible contracts. This means that for the first time, more than a quarter of the Dutch workforce does not have a traditional permanent employment contract.


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