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Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who suffered spectacular losses in Wednesday's election after turning his guns on Brussels, precipitated his own defeat by collapsing the previous government.
The Netherlands' "best known politician outside the country", thanks to his hard-line anti-Muslim stance, Wilders appealed to local voters on a populist platform taking aim at the "bureaucrats in Brussels."
"As far as we are concerned, the September 12 (election) is going to be a big referendum over everything that has to do with the EU," he said as he launched his Party for Freedom's (PVV) election campaign in The Hague.
"The European Union is, as far as we are concerned, the subject on which the Netherlands wants an answer," Wilders added.
"Their Brussels, our Netherlands," was the slogan of the platinum-haired politician, whose party is now predicted to win just 13 seats, almost half its previous tally of 24, according to exit polls.
His party's programme ran on a double negative -- it promised voters it would not pay "one more cent to Brussels" -- and curb immigration, particularly from Muslim and eastern European countries.
Now 49, Wilders believes he is on a mission to "stop the flow of buckets of money" to southern European countries like Greece, while at the same time fight the perceived "Islamisation" of the Netherlands.
Reviled and adored alike for his anti-Islamic rhetoric, the firebrand nevertheless made deep cracks in a long tradition of Dutch consensus politics.
"We dare to talk about sensitive subjects like Islamisation and we use plain and simple words that the voter can understand," is how Wilders, creator of the 2008 anti-Islam film "Fitna", explains his election programme.
His 17-minute commentary, featuring shocking imagery of attacks in New York in 2001 and Madrid in 2004 combined with quotes from the Koran, Islam's holy book, has drawn outrage in several Muslim countries.
Last year he was acquitted on hate speech charges by a Dutch court, accused of spreading racial animosity and discrimination against Muslims.
Nicknamed "Mozart" for his platinum-dyed mop of hair, Wilders describes his far-right label as "nonsense", but displays no hesitation in branding the Koran a "fascist" book.
"My supporters say: 'At last there is someone who dares to say what millions of people think'. That is what I do," Wilders has told AFP.
He has been living under 24-hour protection for the past eight years due to death threats and is now regarded as the best protected man in the country.
Wilders started his political career in the Dutch liberal VVD party which he quit after 14 years in 2004, partly over its support at the time for Turkey's EU membership bid.
Having started off as a policy advisor and speech writer for the VVD, Wilders was elected a municipal councillor in 1997 and a lawmaker the following year, becoming an independent member of parliament when leaving the party in 2004.
He created the PVV for parliamentary elections in 2006, campaigning to "limit the growth of Muslim numbers" in the Netherlands, and taking nine out of 150 seats. This number jumped to 24 after 2010 elections.
But Wilders lost some of his shine after walking out of talks with the governing coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, which Wilders' party had until April backed at arms' length, giving it a slender majority.
The move led to the collapse of Rutte's coalition with the Christian Democrats, which in turn led to Wednesday's election.
The economic crisis remained at the top of his agenda and his anti-EU stance led to an accusation that the party was "wanting to hide behind the dykes".
© 2012 AFP
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