Dutch PM calls on migrants, says integrate or leave
by Associated Press
THE HAGUEJan 25, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Jan 25, 2017 12:00 am
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sought to lure voters away from anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders, as campaigning for the March 15 national elections heated up on Monday. In a full-page newspaper message, Rutte said "we have to actively defend our values" against people who refuse to integrate or act antisocially. "Behave normally or go away." While Rutte's message did not mention Wilders or his Party for Freedom, it was clearly aimed at winning over voters who would likely back Wilders' hardline platform.
Rutte, leader of the center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, said he understands calls for people who don't integrate to leave the Netherlands. "I have that feeling, too," he said. But he also appeared to criticize Wilders' anti-immigration stance. "The solution is not to tar people with the same brush," Rutte said. A court convicted Wilders in December of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans. He is appealing the conviction, which he branded "shameful."
On Monday, Wilders hit back and called Rutte "the man of open borders, the asylum tsunami, mass immigration, Islamization, lies and deception." Polls give Wilders an edge on Rutte at the moment. But mainstream parties shun Wilders and it appears unlikely he will be able to form a coalition even if he wins the popular vote.
Rutte's coalition has steered the Netherlands to a strong recovery from the financial crisis that swept Europe, but his party's popularity has slipped as Wilders' has grown. Wilders joined right-wing populist leaders from France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere on Saturday at a meeting Germany ahead of elections this year that could see major gains for nationalist parties. "I believe we are witnessing historic times," Wilders said, the day after U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration.
The most recent opinion polls predict the PVV will top the vote, saying it could seize 34 seats in the 150-seat lower house of Dutch parliament, some 10 seats ahead of his nearest rival, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberals. Rather than hurting the controversial lawmaker, observers say anti-Islam Dutch MP Wilders' hate speech trial has boosted his popularity among Dutch voters, worried about the influx of immigrants and driven by eurosceptic sentiments. Amid a string of populist victories in Europe and the November election of Donald Trump as the next US president, the outcome of the Dutch vote will be keenly watched. The Netherlands is holding parliamentary elections in March 2017.