- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Dutch police yesterday identified a 32-year-old animal-rights activist as the suspected assassin of the country's leading anti-immigration politician, as right-wing leaders across the continent said recent vitriolic leftist attacks on populist policies helped inspire the shooting.

Europe was reeling from the midday murder of Pym Fortuyn, 54, a shaven-headed, openly homosexual sociology professor whose year-old party had zoomed to the top of the polls in the Netherlands on a tough anti-crime, anti-immigration platform.

Members of Mr. Fortuyn's party named the suspect as Volkert van der Graaf, a white Dutchman and militant animal-rights crusader who had clashed with members of the flamboyant Mr. Fortuyn's movement in the past. Mr. Fortuyn had said he would repeal a Dutch law banning the farming of animals for fur if elected prime minister.

But the shocking slaying the first of a major European political figure since Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme was gunned down in 1986 also provoked speculation about its impact on the surging fortunes of anti-European Union, anti-immigrant parties in France, Italy, Austria, Belgium and elsewhere.

The shooting followed by a day the second round of French presidential elections in which right-wing populist Jean-Marie Le Pen took nearly a fifth of the vote against incumbent President Jacques Chirac, a campaign in which Mr. Le Pen faced bitter criticism from mainstream politicians across Europe.

Umberto Bossi, whose Northern League is a junior partner in the government of Italian center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, blamed the shooting on "a climate which the left has created and continues to create throughout Europe with the help of the media, aimed at demonizing all who oppose what they think."

Bruno Megret, Mr. Le Pen's former ally and now his main rival in French rightist politics, observed, "If [Mr. Fortuyns killing] was politically motivated, this criminal act shows to what extent certain hysterical positions like those shown on the French left over the past 15 days can incite hatred."

In a sense, the shooting on a Dutch street graphically underscores the anti-crime "security" issue that Mr. Fortuyn, Mr. Le Pen and many other rising figures on Europe's new right have been pushing.

"Combined with Le Pen's surprising showing in the first round of French elections and the recent rise in violent crime throughout Europe, Fortuyn's assassination could help to legitimize the far-right platform in the minds of voters," said an analysis yesterday by the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor.com.

In Denmark yesterday, the governing center-right Social Democratic Party and the rightist Danish People's Party struck a deal tightening immigration controls, slashing public benefits to new arrivals and requiring new citizens to speak Danish.

In Brussels, the executive arm of the EU yesterday floated a series of proposals to tighten border controls into the 15-nation economic zone, into which an estimated 500,000 unlawful immigrants from Eastern Europe and northern Africa come each year.

European Commission President Romano Prodi, in language that would not have been out of place at a Le Pen rally, vowed, "We will protect our area of freedom, justice and security against any external threat of terrorism, organized crime or uncontrolled immigration."

The assassination of one of the continent's most colorful anti-immigration populists will not stop the trend of electoral successes such political movements have enjoyed in recent years, according to Martin Lee, author of a study of right-wing political movements in Europe.

Mr. Fortuyn "touched a raw nerve in the Dutch population, just like Le Pen and some of the others have touched a raw nerve," Mr. Lee said. "Yes, Fortuyn was an outsized personality, but someone will emerge to carry his mantle because there's clearly a constituency for it."


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