Dutch eco-activist charged with Fortuyn murder

 

Prosecutors charged an environmental campaigner today with the murder of flamboyant Dutch politician Mr Pim Fortuyn, a spokesman said.

The shooting of Mr Fortuyn on Monday, barely a week before a general election in which he was expected to perform well, stunned this quiet, tolerant country and sent shock waves across Europe.

The suspect has been charged with murder and illegal possession of firearms, prosecutors' spokesman Mr Robert Meulenbroek told reporters.

Lawyers have named the suspect as Mr Volkert van der Graaf (32) a vegan animal rights activist opposed to factory farming.

The Amsterdam court where Mr Van der Graaf appeared briefly with a lawyer issued a statement saying the prosecutors' request for a 10-day extension of his detention had been granted. Mr Meulenbroek said the suspect made no statement in court.

Mr Fortuyn (54) had been expected to pick up around 15 per cent of the vote for his newly-formed party in the May 15th poll.

After meeting political chiefs and members of Mr Fortuyn's party, Prime Minister Wim Kok said yesterday the election would go ahead as planned, calling it an "important signal that democracy functions and continues to function".

None of the cracks that had emerged in the Dutch electorate during the early weeks of campaigning were in evidence on Tuesday, as thousands signed condolence books and flocked to the streets around Mr Fortuyn's opulent home in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam mayor Mr Ivo Opstelten led an estimated 15,000 people in a silent march through the port city yesterday evening, as Fortuyn supporters and opponents gathered to wave banners and Dutch flags.

"I'm no supporter of Pim Fortuyn, but I think everybody should have the right to speak," said marcher Mr Jan Knierien, 37, director of an Internet company.

The arrest of the suspect, who hails from the Dutch "Bible belt" town of Harderwijk, came as a shock to his wife and to friends, who described him as a peaceful man.

The motive for the killing remained unclear and police said the suspect had made no statement. Investigators found bullets and environmentalist materials at his home.

A vegan animal rights campaigner for a small, little-known animal welfare group, the suspect had used legal challenges to battle the expansion of factory farming and fur farms.

"His weapon was the law," one of his colleagues in the group told Dutch televison. "Something must have gone wrong, something derailed."