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Dutch election on despite murder

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Wim Kok says general elections will go ahead as planned on May 15 despite the murder of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn.

Fortuyn was shot dead on Monday, just nine days before elections in which polls forecast his party would make major gains, on the back of an anti-immigration policy.

The Cabinet had been considering delaying the election amid fears of public unrest after the shooting near Amsterdam that stunned the usually peaceful country.

"(Our consultations) have brought us to the conclusion that it is sensible to go ahead with the original date (of the election)," Kok told reporters after talks with other political leaders including those of Pim Fortuyn's List party.

Earlier, the party's spokesman Mat Herben called for the election not to be delayed. "Pim loved electoral democracy, so we too want the elections to go ahead on May 15," he said.

Dutch police arrest a suspect over the Fortuyn killing. CNN's Robin Oakley reports (May 7)

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CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Fortuyn's party would want the election to go ahead as soon as possible to take advantage of an expected sympathy vote.

"While people want to show sympathy for Fortuyn's family and party there is a political consideration here also," he said. "They have said that those who want to honour Fortuyn should vote for him.

"A politicised protest vote would be worrying for the mainstream parties," he added.

Oakley also questioned how long the party, which only emerged earlier this year, would survive without Fortuyn, as "very few have any experience."

Fortuyn died after being shot at least six times in the head, neck and chest as he left a radio interview on the outskirts of Amsterdam. (Full story)

Dutch politicians have condemned the killing. "What has happened here is indescribable," Kok said.

Vice-Prime Minister Annemie Jorritsma said on Monday that holding the elections after an assassination was "bizarre." Els Borst, another vice-premier, said "maybe a time-out is necessary." (More political reaction)

Political parties have immediately suspended all campaigning and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was due to arrive for a rally on Tuesday, cancelled his trip.

Polls predicted that Fortuyn, 54, would win up to 28 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament and a possible place in a coalition government in the elections.

An early indication of the party's success was shown when it won 35 percent of the vote in local elections in Rotterdam, a port city with a large immigrant population, in March.

The party campaigns on a strong anti-immigration policy, although Fortuyn distanced himself from other far-right European politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen who shocked France by winning second place in the first round of presidential elections, defeating Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Pym Fortuyn
Fortuyn broke the mould of Dutch politics with his flamboyant style  

Oakley, who had been due to interview Fortuyn on Wednesday, said his party had stressed the difference between its leader and Le Pen.

"They stressed I was not to bracket Fortuyn with Le Pen," Oakley added. "He was a maverick ... and it was difficult to categorise him on the far right." (Profile of Fortuyn)

Fortuyn, who was openly gay, supported many of the policies of the liberal Netherlands, such as gay marriages, euthanasia and the legal use of soft drugs. But he was sceptical of the European Union and wanted a referendum on whether it should be enlarged.

Fortuyn's policy did not advocate sending immigrants back but instead he advocated stemming the influx. "Holland is full," he said.

The party leader gained popularity with verbal attacks on the Netherlands' growing Muslim population and strident criticism of Kok, a social democrat, and his liberal and conservative coalition partners.

The former academic and columnist had been sent death threats in recent months and had employed bodyguards but was unable to afford 24-hour a day protection, a spokesman said. He had not asked for police protection.

Until Monday, he had only been attacked with cream pies. Most political leaders, except for the prime minister, go without bodyguards into crowds and onto public transport.

Police have arrested a 33-year-old white Dutch man in connection with the shooting, which they say they believe to be an opportunist killing.

Oakley said the details emerging of the man arrested were "significant in terms of a political backlash considering Fortuyn's tough line on immigration and anti-Islam."

"It lessens peoples' fears of politics dividing on racial grounds if this man proves to the perpetrator of the crime."

Some skinheads were blamed by police for sparking violence in The Hague after news of Fortuyn's death.

Kok appealed for calm in response to the angry crowds clashing with police, smashing windows and setting two cars alight.

Police, dressed in riot gear, used water canons to disperse the crowds, several of whom were arrested.




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