Rita Verdonk received blistering criticism in a debate with parliament over her role in a political blunder that led to the resignation of Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is the Netherlands' best-known critic of Islam.

The biggest threat came from within the ruling conservative coalition's own smallest member, the centrist D-66 party, which supported a dismissal motion by parties on the left.

But the government was able to beat the vote and keep Verdonk - for the time being - with support from several far-right parties outside the coalition.

The debate was stopped at about 5.30am. The Cabinet was to meet on Thursday afternoon to discuss what to do next.

Louswies van der Laan, the D-66 parliamentary faction leader said that her party's primary object was to force Verdonk to resign, not to cause the collapse of the Cabinet.

The apparent options are Verdonk's departure; the D-66 leaving the Cabinet and Jan Peter Balkenende's Christian Democrats continuing with Verdonk's libertarian VVD party as a minority government; or the D-66 reversing its position.

Hard-line

The debate came as Dutch parties began to look towards elections scheduled for next May, with the three parties in the centre-right governing coalition trailing the left-leaning opposition, led by the Labour party, in the polls.

The outgoing leader of the VVD's parliamentary faction rejected the idea of getting rid of just Verdonk. "It's completely unacceptable," Willibrord van Beek told NOS news afterwards. "We go in together, we go out together."

Verdonk, known for her hardline stance on immigration, appeared unlikely to depart.

In May, Verdonk set off an international outcry by threatening to revoke Hirsi Ali's passport after she admitted lying about her name in her 1992 asylum application.

Verdonk was ordered by parliament to reconsider.

Loophole
 
On Tuesday, Verdonk reversed her earlier decision, having discovered a loophole: under Somali law, Hirsi Ali's false name was technically legal because it was her grandfather's name, Verdonk argued, even though Hirsi Ali had been raised with the name of her father, Hirsi Magan.

Hirsi Ali has been threatened
for her criticism of Islam 

Under the agreement, Hirsi Ali signed a statement taking the blame, that she had "misled" Verdonk by saying she had lied.

Wouter Bos, leader of the opposition Labour party, said: "I think the minister really has acted in a shameful manner. To ask someone to sign a statement like that, just to save your own face, taking advantage of someone in a vulnerable position, it's not worthy of a minister."

Hirsi Ali is in Washington, DC, seeking housing before she takes a position with a conservative think-tank in September.

She became known internationally after the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim fanatic.

Hirsi Ali wrote the script for the film, which criticised the treatment of women under Islam and offended many Muslims.