Dutch citizens divided on Wilders

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While voters may not agree with all of Geert Wilders’ extremist statements, many said they agree with his stance on foreigners.

Gouda – Voters in Gouda, the scene of racial tensions which saw Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders urge army intervention in 2008, personify immigration arguments across Europe.

As the Netherlands town famed for its cheese went to the polls Thursday in sprawling European Parliament elections characterised by fears of voter apathy and rising extremist representation, citizens were deeply divided on Wilders.

"I won't vote for cowards, but for a party that can guarantee that an elderly woman can cross the road safely," 81-year-old Gerard Stoop told AFP after casting his vote for Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV)

"For me, the theme of immigration is important. These immigrants youths are a real problem," the octogenarian said as his wife urged him to lower his voice while eyeing two youngsters of immigrant origin standing nearby.

Stoop had cast his ballot in the suburb of Oosterwei that is referred to locally as "Little Morocco".

In late 2008, bus drivers refused to service certain stops in Oosterwei after several attacks on their colleagues by young men reported to be of Moroccan origin.

Simmering discontent among ethnic Dutch residents who complained they were "under siege" by Moroccan youths prompted Wilders' call for the army to be sent in.

But another pensioner at the same polling station, 76-year-old Aouicha Kannioui of Moroccan origin, illustrated the difficulties the issue throws up right across the 27-nation EU bloc when he said: "I voted because I am Dutch."

In 2008, Wilders gained international notoriety when he released his anti-Islam film Fitna. The 15-minute film prompted protests in much of the Muslim world and is largely blamed for the Netherlands' "substantial" terror threat level.

Under 24-hour protection for the past five years, Wilders faces a hate speech trial at home and was recently barred from entering Britain to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages".

Reviled and adored alike for his straight talk on immigration, Wilders is taking his PVV party into European polls for the first time with the stated aim of dismantling the European Union "from the inside".

His believes he is on a mission to fight the "Islamisation" of the Netherlands and his party opposes mainly Muslim but secular Turkey being invited to join the free-market economic and political super-region.

In the gothic-styled, canal-laden centre of Gouda, younger voters were similarly divided.

"I do not agree with everything Wilders says, but definitely with his stance on foreigners," a voter who identified himself only as Pietro told AFP.

But a 35-year-old shop attendant who wouldn't give her name, but said she voted for the Party for Animals, said Wilders is "too extreme... He is a terrible man with a big mouth."

Early analysis of the Dutch EU election show that Wilders’ Freedom party is the biggest winner, taking up16.9 percent of the vote Thursday.

The Christian Democrats, which remained the biggest party, lost two of its seven seats, and the Labour Party dropped from seven to four seats.

AFP / Expatica

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