Rita Verdonk Dented by Hirsi Ali Affair

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 18, 2006; 4:41 AM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk may have brought an abrupt end to the political dreams of two women this week: those of a Somali-born lawmaker _ and her own.

On Monday, Verdonk informed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who gained prominence with her blunt criticism of fundamentalist Islam and for defending the rights of Muslim women, that her citizenship was invalid because she had lied on her asylum application in 1992.

Verdonk, a criminologist and former deputy prison warden, claimed she was simply applying Dutch law. In the past, such refusals to make exceptions have pumped up her polling figures.

But this time it appears to have backfired, jeopardizing her bid to become the country's first woman prime minister.

After Hirsi Ali announced Tuesday she was quitting parliament and leaving the Netherlands, Verdonk was skewered by political foes and friends alike during a parliament debate lasting into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

She was ridiculed when she claimed she had not known that Hirsi Ali had falsified her name and year of birth, even though the Somali refugee went public with that information four years ago when she was offered a parliament seat.

As Verdonk squirmed in her own defense, parliament adopted one resolution ordering her to reconsider her ruling and another to reprocess Hirsi Ali's naturalization as quickly as possible if necessary.

Although their paths to power have been radically different, both women are members of the libertarian VVD party, and both became household names in the Netherlands after the murder of their mutual friend, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004.

Verdonk, 50, has been called "Iron Rita" for her merciless enforcement of the government's strict immigration policies. Her image of tough decisiveness struck a chord among voters, who have been moving to the right for the last four years, especially on the issues of immigration and crime.

She was _ until this week _ the front-runner to win her party's leadership battle in internal elections May 31, with a good shot at becoming prime minister in elections a year from now.

Although it might seem strange, both women say they remain friends.

"I'm still crazy about Rita. It would be vicious and opportunistic if I were to think otherwise," Hirsi Ali told reporters after her tearful resignation announcement. "Verdonk applied the rules the way she read them."

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