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June 27, 2017

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Dutch PM claims election victory, starts coalition

THE HAGUE--Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte began hammering out behind closed doors Thursday the coalition he will lead after receiving a solid mandate to battle Europe's debt crisis.

His ruling VVD won Wednesday's election with 41 seats, just two more than center-left Labour, at the expense of anti-Europe populist parties like the PVV of far-right leader Geert Wilders, who suffered a humiliating defeat, and far-left Socialist leader Emile Roemer who made no gains.

"As leader of the largest party I feel a particular sense of responsibility and therefore I don't want to comment," on coalition-forming, he told public broadcaster NOS after the first meeting of his parliamentary group.

"I'm calling for radio silence," he said when asked if had spoken to his most likely main coalition partner, Labour leader Diederik Samsom.

Earlier Rutte told the party faithful "we will not betray your trust," after the VVD won the most seats ever, running against a European trend that has seen governments toppled as the debt-crisis bites ever deeper.

The election success of Rutte's VVD, closely followed by rising star Samsom's PvdA, means that the new coalition will be moderate and marks a victory for parties committed to debt-busting austerity.

The vote reflected the Netherlands' commitment to its enduring relationship with Europe and will keep the eurozone's fifth largest economy closely allied with economic powerhouse Germany.

"This is one of the only leaders in Europe that has had elections right in the middle of the crisis and who was re-elected," Claes de Vreese, political communication lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, told AFP.

"In fact, when you look at the results, he wasn't only re-elected but his support grew," he added.

If the two main parties agree an alliance, the VVD and Labour would have 80 seats, a majority in the 150-seat parliament but the coalition would likely want more partners.

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