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Dutch MPs hope new mediator will spark coalition talks

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The Hague (AFP)

Dutch lawmakers appointed a new moderator Tuesday to steer a revived bid to forge a coalition government after tough talks hit an impasse following legislative elections in March.

MPs overwhelmingly voted in favour of appointing retired politician Herman Tjeenk Willink to lead a new round of negotiations.

Willink will now "investigate the possibility of forming a majority or minority cabinet," outgoing Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said.

Rutte's Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the March 15 vote, capturing 33 out of the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house of parliament.

But his initial bid to form a four-party coalition collapsed after eight weeks of talks when differences with the ecologist leftwing GroenLinks proved too great for Rutte and two other leading parties -- the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the progressive Democracy Party D66.

Both the CDA and D66 have 19 seats each, but in combination with Rutte's VVD they still fall short of the 76 MPs needed for a parliamentary majority.

A second attempt by veteran politician Edith Schippers -- who on Tuesday handed the baton to Willink -- to get the VVD, CDA and D66 together with the small conservative Christian Union (CU) also failed.

D66 and the religious CU have major differences over medical ethics, most notably D66's support for assisted suicide.

Most of the major parties have also vowed not to work with the anti-Islam, anti-EU Geert Wilders even though his far-right Freedom Party boosted its support to come second in the polls, winning 20 seats in March.

Wilders on Tuesday accused MPs of running a "nursery school" for refusing to consider his party.

Schippers has already warned of the spectre of a minority government, which would then have the arduous task of searching for opposition support to get bills passed in parliament.

But on Tuesday, she remained optimistic.

"We must mark this phase, but not accept it as the final stage," she told parliamentarians.

"We are dealing with an incredibly complex political landscape," Schippers said.

Coalition governments and arduous negotiations are common in The Netherlands. Rutte took 54 days in 2012 to form his coalition, while the record stands at 208 days in 1977.

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