THE HAGUE (AFP) - - The Dutch government collapsed Saturday, the prime minister said, after members of the coalition government disagreed on a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission in Afghanistan.
"Later today, I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the ministers and deputy ministers of the (Labour Party) PvdA," premier Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists in the early hours.
He made the announcement after the cabinet held more than 16 hours of talks in The Hague to try to settle the dispute between the PvdA and Balkenende's Christian Democratic Appeal, the senior partner in the governing coalition.
In the latest in a string of political rows, vice-premier Wouter Bos invoked the ire of his cabinet colleagues by stating this week that his PvdA would not support extending the Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen had asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year later than originally planned.
Bos' comments prompted Balkenende to respond that the matter was still under discussion, while the Christian Union (CU), the junior partner in the coalition, chided Bos for speaking out of turn.
The public spat resulted in a snap parliamentary debate Thursday, during which Bos was accused of using the issue for political gain as polls show his party lagging in the run-up to March 3 municipal elections.
The deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan was an unpopular move with voters from the outset.
"As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no common road for the CDA, PvdA and the Christian Union to take into the future," Balkenende said.
"For days we have seen that unity has been affected by ... statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions."
This was Balkenende's fourth government in a row in eight years. All have collapsed before their mandate expired.
Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already once been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers' lives.