Dutch minister to be questioned about false claim of meeting Putin

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AMSTERDAM (Feb 13): Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra will be questioned in parliament on Tuesday for having lied about witnessing Russian President Vladimir Putin outline a strategy for a "greater Russia" in 2006.

Zijlstra admitted on Monday that he lied in 2016 when he said he had attended a meeting a decade earlier at which Putin spoke of plans for regional expansion. He said he never attended the meeting but had heard about the president's remarks second hand.

The Russian Embassy in the Netherlands on Tuesday rejected Zijlstra's allegations as "fake news". Zijlstra is due to travel to Moscow for a previously scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

Zijlstra's admission led opposition parties to demand his resignation, but the governing parties and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also a member of the Liberal VVD party, have stood by him.

All major parties have called for him to appear in parliament later on Tuesday to face questions from lawmakers, who have the power to dismiss him.

Newspaper de Volkskrant reported on Tuesday that Zijlstra had also misrepresented Putin's comments, citing an email from former Shell chief executive Jeroen van der Veer, who was at the meeting and the publication said was the source of the claim.

The Russian Embassy said in a statement that Zijlstra's allegations "do not hold up against any criticism and are only intended to spread false perceptions of Russia's intentions."

"Russia is being blamed for disseminating disinformation," the embassy said in a statement. "Dutch officials are constantly making such unfounded statements. ..Isn't this an example of fake news directed against our country?"

The dispute comes at bad time for the Dutch, who are preparing indictments against suspects in the downing in July 2014 of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 with 196 Dutch citizens on board.

Dutch authorities have said the passenger airline was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile, fired from territory held by pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.