Anti-Islam lawmaker not part of Dutch government

The Hague, Netherlands - Anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders' hopes of becoming a Dutch Cabinet minister evaporated Friday after exploratory talks to include him in a right-wing coalition ended without agreement.

Wilders, who faces a hate speech trial this year for his criticism of Islam, held a week of closed-door negotiations with the leaders of the pro-free market VVD and the right-leaning Christian Democrats, but could not agree to forge a three-party Cabinet in the aftermath of last month's inconclusive elections.

VVD leader Mark Rutte said he will now begin further talks with his Christian Democrat counterpart Maxime Verhagen about creating a minority government with support from Wilders' Freedom Party on key votes.

The VVD was the winner of June 9 elections with 31 seats while the Christian Democrats slumped from 41 to 21 seats in the 150-member lower house of Parliament. Wilders' Freedom Party, known by its Dutch acronym PVV, won 24 seats.

The Christian Democrats, known as the CDA, have steadfastly refused to join Wilders in a ruling coalition because of his strident criticism of Islam.

Wilders was upbeat about the decision, which could still give him a strong hand in shaping what government policy becomes law. And he added, "it will allow me to say what I want in Parliament."

No timetable was immediately set for the next round of talks, which will aim at hammering out a policy document for a possible new minority Cabinet.

Like Wilders, Rutte wants to limit immigration, especially of those who could be a drain on welfare funds. But he stops short of Wilders' radical platform, which would ban further immigration from Muslim countries. Muslims make up about 6 percent of the Dutch population.