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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urges support for Ukraine, EU and NATO in his farewell speech

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MOLLY QUELL, Associated Press

Netherland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 27, 2024. European Union leaders are expected on Thursday to discuss the next EU top jobs, as well as the situation in the Middle East and Ukraine, security and defence and EU competitiveness. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Long-serving Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged his country to support Ukraine and international cooperation in his final address to his compatriots Sunday, as an inward-looking new government is set to take over the Netherlands in two days.

“It is crucial that our country is embedded in the European Union and NATO. Together we are stronger than alone. Especially now,” the 57-year-old Rutte said from his office in The Hague.

After leading the country for 14 years, he will take his experience with consensus-building to Brussels, where he will take over as NATO’s new secretary-general later this year.

He stressed the need to continue support for Ukraine, “for peace there and security here.” The new government, expected to take office on Tuesday, has pledged to maintain assistance. But far-right populist Geert Wilders, whose party won the largest block of seats in last year’s election, has expressed pro-Russia views and Kremlin backers cheered his victory at the polls.

Rutte described the MH17 tragedy in 2014 as “perhaps the most drastic and emotional event” during his tenure. The passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine as it traveled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 passengers and crew, including 196 Dutch citizens.

A Dutch court convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian in 2022 of involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777.

Known for cycling to meetings and his dedication to politics, Rutte highlighted his country’s positive attributes.

“There is no war here, you can be who you are, we are prosperous,” he said in the 12-minute speech.

He acknowledged that there had been low points during his tenure, including a child benefits scandal that wrongly labeled thousands of parents as fraudsters.

Wearing a white shirt with several of the top buttons undone, Rutte said that his time in office had added some “gray hairs and wrinkles” to his appearance.

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