GLOBE AND MAIL
Tuesday, May 7, 2002
Netherlands stunned by slaying of extremist
LONDON Plunging the Netherlands into political chaos just nine days before a general election, a gunman yesterday assassinated Pim Fortuyn, the controversial far-right politician who wanted to stop all Muslim immigration to his country.
In a nation that has almost no modern history of political violence, police said late last night they had one suspect in custody: a 33-year-old white Dutchman. The Netherlands, and much of Europe, was already in turmoil over the slaying, and fear of more violence on the continent's increasingly polarized political landscape was growing.
"It is deeply tragic for our democracy," acting prime minister Wim Kok said. He halted his own campaign after receiving news of the shooting.
"These are things you thought were just not possible in the Netherlands," said Ad Melkert, new leader of the ruling Labour Party and its candidate for prime minister. "It's a low point for our democracy."
"That he is murdered in the midst of an election campaign is a loss, not only for democracy in the Netherlands but for democracy in Europe," added Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson, whose predecessor, Olof Palme, was fatally shot in 1986.
Police said Mr. Fortuyn was shot six times in the head, neck and chest, shortly after leaving a radio studio in Hilversum, about 20 kilometres southeast of Amsterdam.
Mr. Kok, whose political future had been threatened by the rising popularity of Mr. Fortuyn and his extremist ideas, made an emotional, televised appeal for calm.
"Let us for God's sake keep calm at a time when you'd really want to be furious," he said yesterday from The Hague.
The government announced a two-day postponement of the May 15 vote.
Mr. Fortuyn was one of the most flamboyant politicians in Europe, but made his greatest mark calling for an end to immigration and referring to Islam as "backward."
Known as Professor Pim, the openly gay, 54-year-old former sociology professor and political columnist had stormed onto the national stage only this year.
He formed his own political party, named Pim Fortuyn's List, just three months ago, after being thrown out of another right-wing party for his anti-immigrant statements.
He went on to stun the major port city of Rotterdam by winning a third of its votes in a municipal election in March.
Some commentators thought he could win as much as 15 per cent of the national vote this month and perhaps even become prime minister in a coalition government.
Mr. Fortuyn was celebrated almost as much for his flamboyant lifestyle as for his reactionary politics. He lived in an Italian-style villa in Rotterdam, with a butler and two King Charles spaniels.
In Babyboomers, his autobiography, Mr. Fortuyn graphically described his first sexual encounter as a boy.
He also used his popular writings to argue against Muslim culture, saying it could not co-exist with the Netherland's famously liberal values.
"In Holland, homosexuality is treated the same way as heterosexuality. In what Islamic country does that happen?" he asked in a recent interview.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriages, regulate prostitution, approve and control euthanasia and tolerate the over-the-counter sale of marijuana.
Mr. Fortuyn wanted to see the number of immigrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the Netherlands each year fall immediately from the present 40,000 to just 10,000.
"This is a full country," he said. "I think 16 million Dutchmen are about enough."
His killing comes as the far right enjoys some momentum in Europe, and just a day after French extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen won six million votes in the second round of the presidential election there.
Far-right parties are part of the governing coalitions of Italy, Austria, and Denmark, and have been enjoying substantial support in Belgium.
Created: May 7, 2002
Last modified: July 9, 2002
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