Dutch coalition talks begin

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The Dutch Liberal party, which this week narrowly won a general election on a pro-euro ticket, said on Friday it wanted to discuss forming a coalition with the Labour party, beginning a process that may include a third party and could take months.

Both parties are pro-Europe and backed bailouts for European Union member states with debt problems, but negotiations will be tough between the right-of-centre Liberals, whose government collapsed in April over austerity measures, and the social democratic Labour, who want to share power with the Socialists.

"In the Liberals' opinion, a cabinet which has at least Liberals and Labour has to be investigated first. That is also logical looking at the election result," Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Mark Rutte told reporters.

Euro-sceptic parties polled strongly until the last minute, but voters dismissed radicals on both the right and the left in the end, opting instead for established parties with track records in government and international affairs.

The Liberals and Diederik Samsom's Labour gained enough seats in Wednesday's general election to form a two-party majority in the lower house of parliament, but need another partner to ensure the smooth passage of laws through the Senate.

The Liberals won the most votes in the party's 65-year history campaigning for fiscal discipline, lower taxes, tight immigration and higher prison sentences.

Labour powered to a close second place, campaigning for strong social benefits, health care for lower income groups, housing market reform and worker protection.

A Liberal-Labour cabinet would produce a broadly pro-European coalition following an election held against the backdrop of the euro zone crisis, rising unemployment, housing price declines and a stagnant economy.

Rutte said the inclusion of other parties, such as the Christian Democrats, which dominated politics for decades but were battered in Wednesday's polls, or Liberal Democrats D66, should be explored.

Samsom told reporters in The Hague he is open to joining a coalition with the VVD and urged consideration of the Socialist Party as a possible third partner.

Reuters/ANP