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Home >> World
UPDATED: 11:13, September 22, 2006
Dutch ministers resign over jail fire
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Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner and Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker resigned on Thursday following fierce criticism of their ministries in a report on last year's fire at a detention center at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Radio Netherlands reported.

Eleven people awaiting expulsion from the Netherlands were killed in the fire, which was started by a discarded cigarette.

"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 was quoted as saying in explaining his resignation to parliament Thursday.

Dekker also made a short statement announcing she would step down because she too was politically responsible for the accident.

The report drawn up by the Dutch Safety Board puts most of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Justice Ministry.

It said the detention center, run by the Justice Ministry and built under the supervision of the Housing Ministry, did not comply with the Housing Ministry's own rules about fire safety.

It also blamed the Justice Ministry for not having sufficiently instructed and trained its staff for such an emergency.

The report concluded that the fire would have caused fewer or no casualties at all had the government observed fire safety regulations.

In October last year nine men and two women -- from the Ukraine, Turkey, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Libya, Georgia and Romania -- died trapped in their cells when fire broke out in a wing of the prefabricated detention center holding about 350 people.

They were all considered illegal immigrants and were awaiting deportation from the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende decided not to appoint permanent replacements for the two ministers as there is a general election on Nov. 22.

Instead, Interior Minister Johan Remkes and Verdonk, whose department is part of the Justice Ministry, will share Donner's workload. Transport Minister Karla Peijs has been given responsibility for Dekker's portfolio.

Verdonk is a risky choice as she will have to substitute for Donner in the parliamentary debate about the findings of the report. The detainees who died were all in the detention center because the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) intended to deport them. Verdonk was and continues to be responsible for the IND.

Mayor Fons Hertog of Haarlemmermeer also resigned on Thursday evening. His officials issued the construction and operation licences for the detention center.

Source: Xinhua


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