The Dutch government's governing coalition stood on shaky ground on Thursday, split over whether to keep troops deployed in Afghanistan and throwing into doubt the scope and timing of planned budget cuts.
As NATO increases attacks across Afghanistan, it has asked the Netherlands to "investigate the possibilities and desirability of a longer stay in Afghanistan" for its 2,000 troops based in the province of Uruzgan.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's centre-right Christian Democrat CDA, the bigger partner in the ruling coalition, has floated the idea of keeping a reduced force in place for a year past the August 2010 deadline.
This has been met with stiff opposition from coalition partner Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos, whose Labour Party wants the Dutch mission to end as promised, with "the last Dutch soldier gone from Uruzgan by the end of the year."
After acrimonious exchanges throughout the week, lawmakers were debating the issue in parliament on Thursday, and the crisis could come to a head at Friday's cabinet meeting.
This week, the Dutch government's main think tank raised its 2010 budget deficit forecast to 6.1 percent of gross domestic product but called for a 2011 deficit of 4.7 percent, implying that steep spending cuts will be needed.
That could crimp the Dutch economy, which data last week showed has just entered a fragile recovery after four straight quarters of negative growth.
The current Dutch mission in Afghanistan, which started in 2006 and was extended in 2008, was scheduled to end in August with the last of the troops leaving in December. A Dutch television show survey of 28,000 people this week showed that 76 percent of those polled have little or no confidence in the government.
Next Monday will mark exactly three years since the current Balkenende administration took office.
ReutersLast Mod: 20 Şubat 2010, 11:36