Dutch populist Geert Wilders calls Moroccans 'scum'

Image copyright EPA Image caption Mr Wilders' championing of Donald Trump is having a negative effect on his poll ratings

Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders has launched his election campaign by calling Moroccans "scum" and promising to make the Netherlands "ours again".

Mr Wilders tops opinion polls ahead of the 15 March parliamentary vote, but has seen his lead fall in recent weeks.

He has vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he wins.

His latest comments come two months after he was convicted in a hate speech trial over his promise to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country.

Mr Wilders addressed his supporters on Saturday amid tight security in his party's stronghold of Spijkenisse, an ethnically-diverse area near Rotterdam.

"There is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who make the streets unsafe," he said. "If you want to regain your country, make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands again, then you can only vote for one party."

He emphasised that he thought "not all are scum".

According to the 2011 census, there were more than 167,000 Moroccan-born residents of the Netherlands, making up the third-largest group of non-EU residents, a figure that does not take into account second or third-generation Moroccans.

Why Dutch populist Geert Wilders is scenting victory

A few hundred supporters of Mr Wilders turned up in Spikenisse on Saturday morning, as did a small group of demonstrators.

"The things that he's going to do make very, very scared," one of the demonstrators, Emma Smeets, told Associated Press.

"A lot of people have gotten used to it and they don't protest any more, and I think it's important that you show your voice, that you don't agree with the things that are happening, and also just to get into contact with the people that are voting for him."

Image copyright AP

Mr Wilders' Freedom Party holds 12 of the 150 seats in the lower house of Parliament. But his nearest rival, right-wing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has narrowed the lead with just a month until the election is held.

The BBC's Anna Holligan, in The Hague, said Mr Wilders' championing of US President Donald Trump's policies appears to be backfiring, as many Dutch voters believe Mr Trump is bad for global stability.

Even if Mr Wilders wins, he may struggle to put together a coalition, as leading parties have said they would not work with him.

Mr Wilders' three-week trial last year was triggered when police received 6,400 complaints about remarks he had made during a municipal election campaign in The Hague.

At a rally, he asked supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands".

When the crowd shouted back "Fewer! Fewer!" a smiling Mr Wilders responded: "We're going to take care of that."

At the trial, prosecutors took testimony from Dutch-Moroccans who said his comments made them feel like "third-rate citizens". He was convicted of insulting a group and inciting discrimination.

BBC

Get the latest news delivered to your inbox

Follow us on social media networks