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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ The new minister for immigration affairs was harshly criticized by his own government after suggesting that immigrants with criminal records should be deported _ even if they have Dutch nationality.

The Minister for Alien and Immigration Affairs, Hilbrand Nawijn, said that a well-known Muslim cleric should be forced to leave the country because he spoke out against Dutch principles.

``If he breaks the law, he should be chased down, prosecuted, and sent out of the country,'' Nawijn said in Saturday's edition of the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. ``That counts for all criminals.''

Nawijn, the former head of the Immigration Service and member of the party of slain populist politician Pim Fortuyn, was referring to the Rotterdam-based imam, Khalid El Moumni.

El Moumni was acquitted in 2001 of allegations that he made derogatory remarks about homosexuals, considered a hate crime in the Netherlands. He had called homosexuality a contagious disease.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende dismissed Nawijn's proposal to deport immigrants of Dutch nationality as ``unconstitutional.''

But the Premier said he wouldn't oppose deporting criminals who don't have passports or permanent residency.

Weekend newspapers were filled with reactions from politicians in and out of Nawijn's party who distanced themselves from his remarks.

Fortuyn ran on an anti-immigration platform in which he called Islam a ``backward, medieval religion'' and Nawijn was given his position with an eye to implementing some of Fortuyn's ideas on immigration.

Last week, he said he hopes to refuse entry to 80 percent of all new immigrants and wants to turn army barracks into makeshift detention centers for asylum seekers.