World Bulletin / News Desk
Firebrand Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders launched his election campaign Saturday with a stinging attack on the country's Moroccan population, calling them "scum" and saying he wanted to make The Netherlands "ours again".
Wilders has been leading opinion polls ahead of crunch elections on March 15, seen as a litmus test of European politics after Brexit and Donald Trump's victory in the United States.
"The Moroccan scum in Holland ... once again not all are scum... but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who make the streets unsafe, mostly young people... and that should change," Wilders told a scrum of journalists before attempting to take a stroll at a market in Spijkenisse, just south of Rotterdam.
"If you want to regain your country, if you want to make The Netherlands for the people of The Netherlands, your own home again, than you can only vote" for his Freedom Party, Wilders said.
"Please, make The Netherlands ours again," said the far-right politician, sporting his trademark peroxide hairdo as a small group of supporters chanted "Wilders! Wilders!" in the background.
The MP, who has vowed to ban the Koran and close mosques should he be voted into power, was convicted of discrimination in December over previous comments he made about Moroccans living in The Netherlands.
But his words about "fewer Moroccans" have found some traction among traditional supporters worried about immigration and rebel attacks across Europe in recent years.
The latest combined opinion polls give Wilders and his PVV party between 24-28 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, two to four seats ahead of Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling VVD party.
Support for Wilders -- who posed for selfies and shook hands with supporters on the town's medieval square -- varied widely and after he left several angry arguments between pro and anti-Wilders supporters broke out.
"We are all voting for Wilders this year," said one supporter Danny, 59, who declined to give his surname "because that's dangerous in this country these days."
"It's not safe in the streets anymore especially in the big cities," he told AFP stroking his beard, as he watched Wilders stroll around under heavy police protection.
Wilders's views have seen him receive death threats including from terror groups such as the ISIL and Al-Qaeda. He is guarded at all times and called the "best protected man in The Netherlands".
"Geert Wilders is polarising people against one another," said Theo de Boer, 50, as he walked away from the market clutching a bunch of flowers.
"He discriminates and I totally disagree with him. We have a constitution and freedom of religion is one of its most important pillars," De Boer said.