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New Dutch leader pledges to cut immigration as the opposition vows to root out racists in cabinet

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof gave his first speech to parliament on Wednesday, pledging that he will work hard at one of his new goverment’s main aims: reducing immigration.

“The biggest of those concerns is asylum and migration. That is the crux of the matter, no matter how you look at it,” said Schoof, who is not a member of any of the four parties that make up the coalition government.

Schoof formally took the reins from long serving prime minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday. The 67-year old former head of the Dutch intelligence agency and counterterrorism office was a surprise choice for the top spot.

The anti-immigration party of firebrand Geert Wilders won the largest share of seats in elections last year and took 223 days to form a four-party government. Opposition from other coalition partners prevented the controversial Wilders from taking the prime minister’s job.

The four parties in the coalition are Wilders’ Party for Freedom, Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the populist Farmer Citizen Movement and the centrist New Social Contract party.

Schoof is now expected to shepherd the coalition agreement into government policy.

The formal agreement creating the new government, titled “Hope, courage and pride,” introduces strict measures on asylum-seekers, scraps family reunification for refugees and seeks to reduce the number of international students studying in the country.

“Migration puts too much pressure on social services and social cohesion. The asylum and migration figures are high and so is the pressure on society,” Schoof told the Dutch lawmakers.

Opposition politicians wasted no time in criticizing the new government. “For the first time, a party with extreme right-wing ideas is taking a seat in (the cabinet),” said Frans Timmermans, leader of the social democrat-greens alliance, addressing parliament immediately after Schoof.

Timmermans then called the policies of Wilders’ party “racist” and announced he would submit a motion of no-confidence against two of its cabinet members over their views on “repopulation” and believe in conspiracy theories alleging a plot to diminish the influence of white people.

Wilders denied accusations that any of his party members are racist. “Not a single (Party For Freedom) member in the House, in the cabinet, in the country, has anything to do with racist Nazi theories,” he said in the assembly.

The debate will continue through Thursday.

Associated Press