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Europe

Wilders security scare escalates Dutch election campaign

media Dutch far right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders campaigns for the 2017 Dutch election in Spijkenisse, a suburb of Rotterdam, Netherlands, 18 February 2017. Reuters/Michael Kooren TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Netherlands far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has gone underground ahead of the country's general election, after a police agent reportedly leaked information about him to a Moroccan gang. Authorities have insisted Wilders is safe.

The leader of the poll-topping Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), took to Twitter to announce the "very disturbing news" that he was suspending all public campaigning until further notice.

It comes after the discovery of a possible mole in his security apparatus. The firebrand MP is already under 24-hour police protection and has been for 12 years now.

"It's certainly unusual and that is exactly why we are shocked," Ben Tallis, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, told RFI by phone on Friday.

"We have to be able to place trust in public servants such as these close protection officers, because they play an essential role in safeguarding our democracy," he said.

Tensions are escalating, three weeks to go before the country's general election in which the Freedom Party and the Liberals of Prime Minister Mark Rutte are neck-and-neck.

Wilders courted controversy on Saturday at the launch of his official campaign by promising to crack down on "Moroccan scum".

"I don't think it's fair to say he had it coming," reckons Tallis. "Oviously Wilders has tested the boundaries of free speech, but this is not the way to address those grievances. And while this kind of action from this officer may be seen as something as a threat to our democracy, Wilders is also a threat to our democracy."

For other critics like Dr André Krouwel, a political scientist from the University of Amsterdam, Wilders is blowing up the security threat for personal gain.

Media spectacle

"Why would you make your security and how it's organized into a media spectacle? That's the opposite of what you should be doing with your security protocols," he told RFI.

A publicity stunt or not, anything that touches upon security or death threats hits a raw nerve in the Netherlands, which is no stranger to political violence.

Flamboyant far-right leader Pim Foruyn was assassinated just nine days before elections in 2002, in part because of his virulent rhetoric. But for Krouwel, the similarities end there.

"Fortyn asked for protection and wasn't given any, that's why he was killed. So you can really blame the authorities there for not protecting its citizens. With Wilders he's been kept safe since 2005. And they've now also exposed the guy that might have been a risk, so they're actually doing their job! Of course, he's managed to frame it that the elites are collaborating with Moroccan policemen to betray him!"

His former Freedom Party member Ehsam Jami disagrees:

"I can tell you personally, this isn't a campaign stunt. I've myself been under police protection just like Wilders for two years, and I can guarantee you that if that would have happened to me, I would have done exactly the same thing. It's my life you know, it's not something you play with," he told RFI.

Terror could win

Ehsan Jami was put under police protection for criticizing Islam and went on to set up an organization for those Muslims wishing to abandon their Islamic faith.

The parallels with Wilders are clear, but Jami doesn't think the far-right leader's plans to ban the Qu'ran and close down mosques and Islamic schools is the right method to win.

"I'm a constitutionalist, he has to match the very constitution we're defending. How are we going to reach this by banning the Qu'ran?  What about the morality? We're better than that."

Asked whether he thought the death threat on Wilders life could hurt or bolsten him, Jami said it was too early to tell.

"He might win the elections, or one or two seats behind the Liberal party, if there's a terror attack in the Netherlands or Europe he will win.. by far. Between now and election day March 15th, if anything happens in that perspective he will win."

Wilders, however, has lost the last four elections and looks likely to be shut out of government again unless he finds a coalition partner.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal party is the closest ideologically, has ruled out any deal with him.

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