ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Hundreds of right-wing demonstrators crowded a main square at Rotterdam’s central station Saturday to protest what they describe as the “discrimination against ordinary Dutch citizens” in favor of immigrants and Muslims.
The protest by around 700 right-wing supporters comes as Dutch political parties gear up for local government elections in March, with issues such as immigration and integration again expected to feature prominently among its 13 million eligible voters.
“The Netherlands is our country, it’s not (Prime Minister) Mark Rutte’s country,” populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who led the demonstration, told the protesters.
“We live here, not in Morocco, we don’t live in Turkey or in Saudi Arabia, but in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands,” said Wilders.
“Here it’s our rules that count. I want to tell you that the Netherlands is not an Islamic country, do you agree?” Wilders said to loud applause, speaking through a megaphone and sporting his trademark peroxide hairdo.
He left the demonstration a short while later after safety concerns, when his vehicle became boxed in by a throng of supporters and journalists.
Wilders, 54, is often called the “best protected” man in the country and lives under 24-hour security.
His anti-Islam views have seen him receive death threats including from terror groups such as the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
He is currently appealing a 2016 conviction for discrimination against Moroccans in a speech at a 2014 election rally.
Many protesters on Saturday waved Dutch flags and carried placards saying “Stop the Islamization of Europe” and “Keep the Dutch culture, traditions, norms and values!”
Police — who were out in force — formed a line between right-wing demonstrators and a handful of people demonstrating against them, led by two MPs of the leftist Denk Party, which draws its support mainly from Turkish and Moroccan communities.
“This (Wilders’ message) is a message of hatred and division and we’re against it. We have a message of unity and solidary,” Denk leader Tunahan Kuzu told AFP.
Wilders’s PVV will compete in around 30 of the 335 local governments in the March 21 vote, with the party battling to find candidates to represent it in other local constituencies.
It will compete in Rotterdam, where it will face off against Kuzu’s Denk party, among others.