Boost for Dutch ruling coalition as unemployment falls

CORRECTS DATE - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks on the third day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The number of people registered as unemployed in the Netherlands fell by more than 100,000 last year, the biggest drop in a decade, the government statistician announced Thursday.

The announcement by the Central Bureau for Statistics is a boost for the country's two ruling parties just under two months away from national elections.

Unemployment in this nation of 17 million fell to 482,000 at the end of 2016, down from 588,000 a year earlier.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte will campaign strongly on his coalition's management of the economy, arguing that his tough austerity measures helped the country emerge leaner and stronger from the global economic crisis.

"It is great to see that so many people went back to work in the last year," Social Affairs Minister Lodewijk Asscher, of the junior coalition partner Labor Party, said in a statement.

Rutte's Liberal Party is narrowly trailing populist firebrand Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in Dutch polls, while Asscher's Labor Party is lagging well behind the leaders.

The election for the lower house of the Dutch parliament is scheduled for March 15.

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