THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Controversial anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders late Thursday said he was cancelling plans to stage a Prophet Mohammad cartoon competition, a scheme that had angered many Muslims particularly in Pakistan.
The Dutch politician’s announcement came after he said he had received several death threats. A man was arrested by police two days earlier on suspicion of wanting to assassinate Wilders.
On Thursday evening, the far-right politician backpedaled on his plans, amid widespread criticism at home with politicians. media and ordinary citizens slamming the idea as needlessly antagonizing Muslims.
“I have decided to cancel the competition to avoid the risk of making people victims of Islamist violence,” Wilders said in a statement.
“I don’t want Muslims to use the cartoon competition as an excuse for Islamist violence,” he added.
Earlier Thursday a man briefly appeared in a Dutch court on suspicion of wanting to assassinate Wilders because of the plans to stage the cartoon competition.
The 26-year-old man appeared at a closed sitting in The Hague with prosecutors saying he is suspected of “committing a terrorist act, planning to commit murder and incitement.”
Police on Tuesday arrested the man at one of The Hague’s main railway stations after he posted a film on Facebook saying he planned an attack on Wilders or the Dutch parliament.
The man, believed to be from Pakistan, also called on other Muslims for support.
“Authorities are taking the threat very seriously,” the Dutch public prosecution service said in the statement.
“The investigation is ongoing” and the man is in custody “with maximum restrictions” meaning that he is only allowed to consult his lawyer.
He will remain in custody for another two weeks before a next appearance.
Plans by Wilders, an avowed anti-Islamist, to hold a cartoon competition at his PVV party’s offices in parliament have stirred anger beyond the Netherlands.
The Netherlands on Wednesday updated its travel advice to Pakistan urging its citizens “to avoid demonstrations in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.”
“Stay alert and keep a low profile,” the travel advice added.
A planned trade mission organized by the Dutch government and private companies in early November has also been postponed “until a later date,” the government-run Netherlands Enterprise Agency said in a separate statement.
Wilders in June announced plans to stage a cartoon competition in parliament later this year to draw the Prophet Mohammed. He claimed he had received 200 entries.
But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has distanced his government from the cartoon competition, saying it was not a government initiative.
Rutte last week said he supported free speech in the Netherlands but believed the competition was “not respectful” and aimed only to provoke.