- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

THE HAGUE Anti-immigrant populist Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant crusader who sought to become the Netherlands' first openly homosexual prime minister, was fatally shot by a gunman yesterday.
Police arrested a suspect, a white male Dutch citizen, close to the scene of the 6 p.m. shooting in Hilversum, 10 miles south of Amsterdam.
The shaven-headed Mr. Fortuyn, 53, sustained numerous gunshot wounds to the head, chest and neck as he emerged from a radio studio and approached his car.
The killing came just nine days before a nationwide election, with Mr. Fortuyn surging in popularity.
His party's rise to No. 1 in the polls reflected anger over illegal immigrants and rising crime a trend that is challenging the political establishment throughout Europe.
Unlike Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was trounced by incumbent President Jacques Chirac in French presidential elections Sunday, Mr. Fortuyn's party was leading all others in polls taken ahead of the May 15 national election.
In a country widely known for tolerance of marijuana, prostitution, euthanasia, and same-sex "marriages" as well as immigration many Dutch were stunned.
Mr. Fortuyn was the first Dutch politician in modern history to be assassinated.
Prime Minister Wim Kok described the shooting as "incomprehensible" and said, "This type of thing does not happen in the Netherlands."
He broke off campaigning to consult with Dutch leaders. A number of other politicians also suspended their campaigns, and some called for the election to be postponed.
In a recent BBC interview, Mr. Fortuyn called Islam a "backward" culture.
Last year, he was thrown out of a left-wing party for condemning a Rotterdam Muslim cleric who had called homosexuals "worse than pigs."
Anti-immigrant and mainstream politicians across Europe yesterday condemned the slaying.
"It is madness," said Karl Schweitzer, a spokesman for Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria. "It always starts with verbal violence, and in that respect some serious disarmament will be needed."
Belgium's Vlaams Blok, a Flemish nationalist party that wants some immigrants deported, said Mr. Fortuyn was killed for taking on the establishment.
"The attack was only possible in an increasingly frictional climate against anyone who is willing to question political correctness," said party leader Frank Vanhecke.
The assailants "are using this climate to undertake misdeeds, even to the point of murder," Mr. Vanhecke said.
The condemnation was not limited to Europe's emerging right wing.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair canceled a trip to the Netherlands and issued a statement saying he "shares the sense of real shock there will be in the Netherlands."
"No matter what feelings political figures arouse, the ballot box is the place to express them," Mr. Blair said.
Paradoxically, a recent poll in De Volkskrant, a leading Dutch newspaper, showed Mr. Fortuyn was popular even among immigrants.
The article said Mr. Fortuyn won support from legal migrants for "putting the finger on the sore wounds, stimulating debate and giving [legal] immigrants their own responsibility back as real citizens."
Last night, Dutch mourners streamed to the site of the shooting and to Mr. Fortuyn's home in Rotterdam to leave flowers and flags.
Mr. Kok urged Mr. Fortuyn's supporters and others to let justice take its course.
"In God's name, let's keep calm. At a time when you want to be very angry, being calm is the best way," he said.
But the mood outside his office near the Dutch parliament turned ugly.
About 200 people demonstrated against Mr. Kok and the nation's political system, which they held responsible for Mr. Fortuyn's assassination.
"Kok is a murderer," shouted one man.
Tom Kursten, 20, from The Hague, said: "I think he was shot down for nothing. He was shot for his belief."
Outside Mr. Fortuyn's home in Rotterdam, mourners lit candles, laid flowers and pinned Dutch flags to the railings.
Mr. Fortuyn, who traveled by chauffeur-driven Mercedes with two lap dogs, savaged the political establishment and soared in opinion polls with his populist Pim Fortuyn List party, formed early this year.
A spokesman for Mr. Fortuyn's party said Mr. Fortuyn who marketed himself as a political novice who dared say what Joe Public was really thinking received regular death threats.
Mr. Fortuyn had surrounded himself with security guards at news conferences since being pelted with a "cake" of vomit and excrement earlier this year.
In a recent television interview, Mr. Fortuyn said the Dutch government had "demonized" him.
"If something happens to me, the government is co-responsible," he said. "They created this climate."
All eyes were on the Netherlands as the next country where pollsters expected an anti-immigration candidate to make big gains.
Other countries where right-wing politicians have made gains in recent years include Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Austria.
Speculation was rife last night that the election would be postponed.
Nearly 2 million of the 16 million people in the Netherlands are immigrants, with 800,000 of them Muslim, mainly from Morocco and Turkey.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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