Anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker fans flames from security bubble
THE HAGUE (AP):
With his flamboyant shock of blonde-dyed hair and fiery anti-Islam rhetoric, Dutch politician Geert Wilders comes across as a man who doesn't mind the limelight.
Yet for the past dozen years, the right-wing populist has spent much of his time holed up in anonymous safe houses or in a heavily guarded wing of Parliament.
Tight security surrounds Wilders night and day, and he hardly ventures outdoors. For his handful of campaign events ahead of a March 15 election, he travelled in convoys of armoured cars.
"It's a total lack of freedom. That's how I would say it," Wilders, who leads the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
The elaborate protection apparatus that surrounds him is a reaction to death threats from extremists enraged by his fierce criticism of Islam.
Wilders has made headlines and drawn condemnation for more than a decade for his anti-Islam rhetoric, which has included comparing the Koran with Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and calling for a tax on the veils some Muslim women wear.
At the same time, support for his party has grown in fits and starts, mirroring what he calls a "Patriotic Spring" sweeping Europe. Despite slipping in the polls recently, the Party for Freedom remains on track to become one of the biggest parties in the 150-seat lower house.
He is also regularly compared to President Donald Trump for his policies and also his penchant for communicating via Twitter.
As protests and riots unfolded this weekend in Rotterdam over a Dutch government decision to block the visits of two Turkish ministers, Wilders fired off regular incendiary tweets.
"Go away and never come back ... and take all your Turkish fans from The Netherlands with you please. #byebye," he said in one as Turkey's family affairs minister was at the centre of a tense standoff at the Turkish consulate.
His one-page election manifesto is light on economic policy and heavy on pledges to "de-Islamise" the Netherlands, a nation of 17 million where an estimated five per cent of the adult population is Muslim.
Wilders calls Islam a threat to western democracy and vows to close all mosques and ban the Koran, if he wins power.
But he has alienated so much of the political mainstream that even if he wins the popular vote, he is considered unlikely to be able to form a ruling coalition in a nation where no single party has ever ruled alone.
Crucially, Prime Minister Rutte has ruled out working together after the election.