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Netherlands: Murder Of Fortuyn Throws Dutch Political System Into Question

The murder of leading Dutch rightist politician Pim Fortuyn has thrown the Netherlands into turmoil. Fortuyn was gunned down last night, just days before a general election in which his anti-immigrant List Party was expected to make a strong showing. A white male suspect is being held by Dutch police, but so far nothing is known about any motive.

Prague, 7 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Mystery surrounds the murder last night of prominent Dutch rightist politician Pim Fortuyn. Dutch media say six shots were fired at close range into the head and chest of Fortuyn as he went to his car after conducting a radio interview in Hilversum, near Amsterdam.

Police have taken a white male into custody as a suspect, but there is no word on any motive.

Coming just days before a general election in the Netherlands, the temptation is to see the murder as a political act, designed to prevent Fortuyn's anti-immigrant List Party from gaining a sizable slice of the votes, as predicted in public opinion polls.

Or is there a terrorist element, given that Fortuyn said he feared the Islamization of society and had made verbal attacks on Islam, calling it a backward religion?

Or are more personal motives at play, considering Fortuyn's openly homosexual lifestyle?

One thing is certain. If politics turns out to be involved, the crime has dented what the Dutch call their "polder model." That's the system of consensus politics that has made the national political scene a cozy world for decades.

Although Fortuyn was a political outsider, mainstream politicians are expressing deep regret over his murder. Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok said: "I am amazed. It is very tragic for all those he leaves behind. It is also very tragic for our country...and for our democratic rule of law."

Foreign leaders say they were also saddened. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said he "believed something like this was impossible in this day in age, in the European Union, in the 21st century." The U.S. called the shooting a "senseless act of violence."

It is the first murder of a prominent politician in Western Europe since Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot in 1986 in circumstances still considered mysterious.

And on the Dutch streets, there is anger and bewilderment. Supporters of Fortuyn gathered outside his home in Rotterdam overnight for a candlelight vigil. As one of his supporters said tearfully: "We'll keep it going. We're just twice as strong as we were before, and Pim hasn't been shot for nothing."

Some among the immigrant community see the affair in another light, however. Reuters quotes 19-year-old Dutch-born Mohammed Abdullah as saying he is not shocked by the killing. He compared Fortuyn to French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who contested last week's presidential election. Le Pen has been deeply criticized for what are seen as his racist views.

It's certainly true that the death of Fortuyn takes place in the shadow of the events in France. The political establishment in that country was shaken by the unexpected success of anti-immigrant Le Pen in reaching the final round of the presidential race.

Given Le Pen's performance, the strong showing of Fortuyn's List Party gains in significance. List won more than one-third of the council seats in Rotterdam in March, just after the party was formed. Polls predicted it would attract continued strong support in the coming Dutch national election. Anti-immigrant politicians and parties are also in prominent positions in Austria and Italy, as well as Norway.

It seems clear European voters are becoming alarmed at the rising tide of illegal immigration from all over the world. In addition, there is the scare factor in well-publicized economic reports that say that -- because of the aging of European populations -- millions of legal immigrants will have to be admitted to Europe in the next few decades.

In the Netherlands, Fortuyn stood out as a man who addressed these fears directly, shedding the constraints imposed by the "polder model" and the demands of modern political correctness. Le Pen did the same in France, although the Dutchman, a former professor, had little in common with the rough-cut French former paratrooper and miner.

Obviously, they both struck a chord with their electorate. Various commentators and politicians have spoken of the far right's gains as a "wake-up call" for the major mainstream parties to recognize that the electorate has concerns which they feel are being ignored.

Dutch political commentator Dick van Zanten of the "Telegraaf" newspaper in Amsterdam says the major Dutch parties have given scant attention in recent years to such issues as immigration, and he says Fortuyn rejected that approach: "He didn't like that everything was so arranged that you could not speak [frankly] about anything anymore. He did not like that, and also that everybody was talking to each other constantly without any decisions being taken. That was his biggest [concern]."

Although Fortuyn was avowedly anti-immigration, he claimed to be neither racist nor anti-Semitic, and he espoused liberal attitudes toward such issues as drug liberalization and the homosexual lifestyle.

Van Zanten says many members of the public, interviewed by the Dutch media, say they will vote for the List Party, despite the absence of Fortuyn, as a sort of protest against his killing.

(RFE/RL's Bruce Jacobs contributed to this report.)