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Dutch fears as Wilders goes to US

Politicians in the Netherlands are worried for country's reputation when MP addresses group opposed to mosque near Ground Zero.
Geert Wilders smiles after his Freedom Party more than doubled its number of seats in parliament in a June 9 election.
Geert Wilders smiles after his Freedom Party more than doubled its number of seats in parliament in a June 9 election.

ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS // Geert Wilders, the Netherlands' outspoken anti-immigrant politician, has announced he will attend a rally in New York to protest against the proposed Islamic centre near Ground Zero and Dutch government officials are urging him to "be responsible" when he speaks there.

Mr Wilders, who opposes any new mosque construction in the Netherlands, plans to attend the September 11 rally called to oppose construction of the proposed Park51 Islamic Centre. His participation in the rally, called by the Stop Islamization of America organisation, has sparked debate about the effect he might have on the country's image if he gains a foothold in the Dutch government. "I abhor the image that the Netherlands will get internationally," said Mariko Peters, a spokeswoman on foreign affairs for the Green-Left opposition party. The controversy comes amid sensitive Dutch coalition talks. Two mainstream right-of-centre parties, the conservative Liberals and the smaller Christian Democrats, are trying to get the support of Mr Wilders's right-wing Freedom Party to form a minority government. While the government has kept its distance from Mr Wilders, Ms Peters said foreigners cannot be expected to make the distinction between him and any minority government he supports. She said she will hold the government accountable for Mr Wilders's actions and words in New York and she urged Arab countries, such as the UAE, "to speak up about this to Dutch representatives and journalists and shake them awake". This view is not shared by everyone. Arendo Joustra, the editor in chief of Elsevier,a right-of-centre magazine, has defended Mr Wilders's right to speak as a parliamentarian in New York or anywhere else. "He was invited to speak in New York. As a Dutch politician, it would be strange if he refused," he said. Mr Wilders's involvement has not been welcomed by all in the United States who oppose construction of the Park51 Islamic centre. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish human rights organisation that opposes the centre's location, has said it hoped Mr Wilders would stay away. The league had earlier excoriated Mr Wilders's "message of hate against Islam as inflammatory, divisive and antithetical to American democratic ideals". Some of the politicians negotiating with Mr Wilders to form a minority government worry about his penchant for uttering radical anti-immigrant sound bites. Maxime Verhagen, the Christian Democrat leader and outgoing foreign minister, has warned Mr Wilders to be "responsible" with his remarks while in New York. Mr Wilders "should stay within the law and not make any statements that impinge on the constitution or can lead to a judicial prosecution against him," Mr Verhagen said through an e-mail statement from a ministry spokesperson. However, Mr Wilders remained defiant. "I shall go, of course, and say whatever I want to say," he said. "What he says and what actually happens are two very different things," said Brahim Bourzik, a Muslim and a former Rotterdam city councillor. He has monitored Mr Wilders's increasingly popular anti-immigrant politics and was dismissive of his rhetoric. Mr Bourzik said the New York controversy "is much more sensitive than what we have here". The Dutch government has become used to the fallout from Mr Wilders's sallies, whether it was his 2008 anti-Islamic film Fitna or remarking during a 2009 visit to Denmark that "deporting millions of European Muslims may be necessary". Mr Wilders is on trial in the Netherlands for incitement to hatred and incitement to discrimination. The trial resumes in October. Mr Verhagen was left red-faced this month after a memo to Dutch diplomats was leaked during the coalition talks. Drafted by his ministry, the memo revealed Mr Verhagen's instruction to diplomats to downplay Mr Wilders's involvement in the expected minority government. Noting Mr Wilders's calls to ban the Quran, close Islamic schools and ban the construction of mosques, Mr Verhagen asked his staff to emphasise that, "as far as we know, the next government is not planning to amend the constitution". foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: August 31, 2010 04:00 AM

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