Dutch government formation talks on ice as document leaks

AMSTERDAM, March 25 (Reuters) - Talks on forming a new Dutch government were put on hold on Thursday when one of the chief negotiators unwittingly revealed a sensitive document to a news photographer while rushing out of parliament after learning she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren, tasked with mapping out possibilities to form a coalition government following last week's national election, was photographed carrying documents as she walked to her car on Thursday morning.

Close-ups of the photo revealed information about the negotiation stance of various parties and on the possible future of Pieter Omtzigt, one of the most prominent parliament members of the Christian Democrats (CDA).

This sparked outrage among party leaders, who quickly tried to debunk the information as premature conclusions.

"Bizarre, this peek in the notes of Ollongren. Subjects which have not been discussed with me and are none of their business," Wopke Hoekstra, Finance minister and CDA leader, tweeted shortly after the photo was published.

Ollongren, a representative of the pro-European Union D66 party, and her fellow coalition explorer from Prime Minister Mark Rutte's party handed in their resignation a few hours after the photo appeared online.

It was not immediately clear when and how the government formation talks could resume.

Ollongren had left parliament in a hurry, after being notified of her positive coronavirus test.

She had held talks with the leaders of all parties in the Dutch parliament in the days before her test, including Rutte and the leader of her own party, Sigrid Kaag.

According to Dutch health regulations, Rutte and the other party leaders will have to take a COVID-19 test five days after their meeting with Ollongren to see whether they were infected.

Rutte tested negative for the coronavirus on Wednesday, his office said on Thursday, following an infection of one of his cabinet members late last week.

Rutte's conservative VVD party remains the largest in the Dutch parliament following the March 15-17 election, while D66 placed second.

Both parties are widely expected to form a new government together with up to three junior partners, in a process that could take months.

Reporting by Bart Meijer

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