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Dutch coalition talks falter as 1 out of the 4 leaders in talks to form a new government walks out

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Weeks of negotiations to form a new ruling majority coalition in the Netherlands led by anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders appeared to end fruitlessly Tuesday as one of the four party leaders involved in the talks walked out without an agreement.

“Incredibly disappointing. The Netherlands wants this cabinet and now Pieter Omtzigt is throwing in the towel while we were still in discussions until today. I don’t understand it at all," Wilders said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Omtzigt later tweeted a statement explaining position the position of his party New Social Contract, or NSC, saying that it was “very shocked” at the state of government finances after reading reports this week provided by ministries.

“Under no circumstances does the NSC want to make promises to Dutch people that it knows in advance are empty promises that cannot be fulfilled during the coming cabinet period,” the statement said.

Omtzigt appeared to rule out taking part in a majority coalition, but said that his party would continue to cooperate on efforts to form a government such as “by providing constructive support to a minority cabinet or a broad extra-parliamentary cabinet.”

The official who has been leading the negotiations, former Labor Party government minister Ronald Plasterk, invited the four leaders to more talks Wednesday evening. He will then write a report that is expected to be debated in Parliament before any decision is taken on how to proceed and end the political uncertainty that has gripped the Netherlands since the Nov. 22 election.

Amid reports of rising tensions at the negotiating table in recent days, Plasterk said that he urged the four leaders earlier Tuesday to “look one another deep in the eyes and decide, yes or no, if there is perspective” to form a coalition.

If new efforts to form a government fail, the country could face a new election.

Wilders stunned the political establishment by becoming the largest party in last year's election, winning 37 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament and putting himself in the driving seat to form a coalition. Since the election, Wilders’ Party for Freedom has since risen even further in polls, with some suggesting he could win 50 seats if new elections were held.

He has been negotiating behind closed doors since late last year with Omtzigt's reformist NSC, and the leaders of two other parties — the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and the Farmer Citizen Movement led by Caroline van der Plas.

“I'm shocked. We were in the middle of constructive talks,” new VVD leader Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius tweeted. “I hope that we can sit down at the table again soon to hear what exactly is going on.”

Van der Plas also said she was shocked.

“It is a total surprise to us that Pieter Omtzigt (NSC) has decided to leave the table and stop talking. Even though we spoke constructively in a good atmosphere until today. This is astonishing,” she tweeted.

The four parties that were involved in the talks hold a total of 88 seats — a comfortable majority in the lower house. Talks, however, have been tough, with Omtzigt voicing reservations from the outset about some of Wilders’ policies.

In an apparent attempt to ease those concerns, Wilders in January announced that he was ditching legislative plans dating back to 2018 that call for a ban on mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran.

Plasterk had said the parties needed first to agree on issues around the constitutionality of some of Wilders’ proposals before advancing to talks on whether there is a “real perspective” for them to cooperate on issues that dominated campaigning for the election — including reining in migration, good governance, climate change and agriculture.

How far they got will become clear when he publishes his report, likely early next week.