Dutch finance minister may cancel Saudi conference appearance

Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra will cancel his planned appearance at a conference in Riyadh next week if it transpires that Saudia Arabia had a role in the ‘disappearance’ of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, broadcaster NOS said on Tuesday. Hoekstra will also boycott the ‘Future Investment Initiative’ conference if Riyadh has failed to satisfactorily answer questions about Khashoggi from the international community, NOS said. International media report that Riyadh is poised to acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul. Last week Hoekstra said reports that Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered inside the Saudi embassy were ‘very worrying’ and that he is following developments closely in consultation with the foreign affairs ministry. Hoekstra is due to take part in the conference on Thursday. Foreign minister Stef Blok has also said the reports are of grave concern. 'It is extremely important that we get clarity,' Blok said during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. 'Every murder is a terrible thing but the murder of a journalist is even worse because journalists have a special role in our society,' he said. The Netherlands is due to send a trade mission to Saudi Arabia in a month's time but Blok said it is too early to say if it will go ahead or not. 'Let us get the facts on the table first and then take decisions,' he said.  More >

Stressed students offered puppy love

The University of Amsterdam is offering over-stressed students the chance to cuddle up with puppies to relieve exam stress next week, it has confirmed to DutchNews.nl. It will have a puppy room available with 750 seats for two afternoons in its library, saying that research demonstrates that a quarter hour of puppy love can lower blood levels of cortisol, and therefore reduce stress during exam week. The puppies are being introduced to the students, too, apparently as a vital part of their socialisation training. The idea, reportedly, comes from British universities including Bristol and Nottingham. The puppies are provided by agency Catvertise and are costing the university some €400. A total of 160 students will be able to benefit and are being asked to sign up on social media. According to the sign up page, the event is already sold out.  More >

Government researchers mobility scooters

The government has asked the road safety research foundation SWOV to look into the safety of mobility scooters, after reports that they have dangerous braking systems, the AD reported on Tuesday. The researchers will look at the technology behind the scooters as well as the rules for use, such as maximum speeds and which part of the road they should stick to, the paper said. Television consumers show Kassa reported earlier this week that one reason so many mobility scooter users are killed may be due to the braking system. The technology is similar to that used by the electric wagons used to transport children, known as the Stint. Stints have been banned from the Dutch roads pending safety checks. In total 38 mobility scooter users were killed in 2016 and 1,600 were taken to hospital after accidents. Last year political party 50Plus called for the introduction of a sort of driver’s license for mobility scooter users, but the idea was dismissed by the government pending research into the accident rate.  More >

Curled octopus spotted in Dutch waters

A rare viewing of an octopus was made in the coastal waters off Callantsoog over the weekend, Noord Hollands Nieuws reports. The curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa) was discovered by diver Mark Barto who was filming a shipwreck eight kilometres off the coast. ‘I was swimming away from the wreck for a bit when I saw it sitting on the bottom of the sea. I was the only one with a camera. (..) When you meet octopuses in tropical seas they are very shy but this one I could film close up. This is why I like what I do, it really rocks!’ he told NH Nieuws. According to Naturalis biologist Auke-Florian Hiemstra, the footage of the octopus is very special. ‘There had been no pictures so far of an curled octopus moving on the ocean floor in the Dutch part of the North Sea,’ he said.   More >

E-bikes not more dangerous

Electric bikes are not more dangerous than ordinary bikes although the elderly are more at risk of an accident, the Telegraaf reported on Tuesday, quoting figures from road safety organisation VeiligheidNL. The group used data on bike accidents from hospital accident and emergency departments to look at the risk of using e-bikes, on behalf of the transport ministry. ‘I can see how this is surprising,' researcher Paul Schepers told the paper. ‘Four years ago I did the same research and then the conclusion was that people riding electric bikes were at greater risk than those who had to pedal. ‘We thought the weight of the bikes led to more accidents. But we have new figures now and they tell us that this isn’t the case if you compare the number of accidents and factor in age, frequency and distance,’ he told the Telegraaf. E-bike users still have a greater risk of ending up at the accident and emergency department, said Schepers, but that is down to age and the number of kilometres they travel. In particular, older cyclists are more likely to struggle with getting on and off their bikes and e-bikes for the elderly need to be designed so that people can reach the ground with their feet, Schepers said. The number of cyclists killed on the Dutch roads outstripped the number of people killed in cars for the first time last year, according to figures from the national statistics office CBS. The over-65s account for two-thirds of deaths among cyclists, and e-bikes were involved in one in four bike accidents.  More >

16,000 freelancers apply for maternity pay

More than 16,000 women who had babies while working as freelancers had made a claim for compensation for maternity pay by the end of September cut-off date, the UWV benefit payments agency said on Tuesday. Women who were self employed between May 2005 and June 2008 are entitled to claim €5,600 for each pregnancy following a court ruling. At that time there was no maternity statutory pay for freelancers but the country’s highest administrative court ruled last year that this conflicted with the UN treaty on women’s rights. This forced the government to set up a compensation scheme. In total, 16,34 women have applied for compensation covering 18,695 births, the UWV said. It is unclear how many claims will be approved.   More >