September 5, 2018 / 2:58 PM / 20 days ago

Dutch foreign minister survives no confidence vote over race remarks

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch foreign minister survived a no confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, as he apologized for saying multi-cultural societies could never be peaceful, and calling former colony Suriname a “failed state”.

FILE PHOTO: Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok attends a meeting with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, Egypt May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

“I should not have said those words and I take them back,” Stef Blok said during a debate over his remarks, made at a closed meeting with Dutch employees of international organizations in July.

“Give me an example of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society, where the indigenous population still live ... where they live in a peaceful, societal union,” Blok said at the meeting. “I don’t know of any.”

The minister then went on to say people in general were probably “genetically” ill-equipped to relate to unfamiliar people, and linked political problems in Suriname to its “ethnic composition.”

The former Dutch colony on South America’s Atlantic northern coast, populated mainly by the descendants of Asian indentured workers, African slaves and indigenous people, was mentioned by someone in Blok’s audience as an example of a peaceful multi-cultural society.

But the minister dismissed this, and said Suriname was a “failed state”.

In his defense, Blok on Wednesday said he had only wanted to spark a debate during the meeting, and hadn’t really meant what he said.

When footage of the session was made public in July, the minister already said his choice of words had been “unfortunate and careless”. But both opposition and coalition lawmakers demanded further explanations in parliament.

“I don’t know what’s in our genes or not”, the minister said in the debate. “But I do know that despite difficulties people are indeed perfectly able to live together.”

He also said he had tried to make amends with Suriname, but that his apologies had so far not been accepted by the country’s government.

Reporting by Bart Meijer; editing by John Stonestreet, Editing by William Maclean

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