Dutch election to go ahead despite murder


THE NETHERLANDS: UN Human Rights Commissioner Mrs Mary Robinson said the assassination could be seen as a wake-up call to guard and strengthen democracy, in particular in a country as traditionally open as the Netherlands.

A 32-year-old left-wing activist, who ran a campaign for an end to vivisection and the bio-industry, is expected to be charged today with the murder of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn. The assassination has caused extraordinary scenes of grief throughout the Netherlands.

The Dutch man was not officially named and may have been acting alone, according to police. Officers who raided his small, terraced house in the town of Harderwijk, found ammunition which matched that which killed Mr Fortuyn as he left a radio station on Monday evening.

It is understood that members of anti-globalisation and anarchistic groups are also being questioned as the investigation into the first murder this century of a political figure in the Netherlands is widened.

A police spokesman said the suspect, caught trying to escape from the scene after the shooting, had no criminal record but his activities and those of his organisation, Milieu Offensief (Environment Offensive), were "well known to the security intelligence service". Piles of literature criticising intensive pig and poultry farming and the breeding of animals for their fur were removed by investigators. The man's wife and young child were last night in hiding and are said to have gone to Spain as the world's media descended on their home town.

Yesterday the numbers who queued to sign books of condolences for Mr Fortuyn ran into tens of thousands and up to 10,000 people left flowers and letters of sympathy at his home in Rotterdam.

Known for his anti-immigration stance and plain speaking, the 54- year-old academic was one of the most controversial and charismatic political figures in the country.

Prime Minister Wim Kok said the Netherlands was "shocked beyond belief by the tragedy". The newspaper de Volkskrant added: "we have lost our democratic innocence; nothing will ever be the same again."

Crown Prince Willem Alexander and his wife immediately cut short their state visit of the Dutch Antillan Islands. "I am deeply shocked," said the Prince, expressing sympathy to Mr Fortuyn's family. "We could not possibly continue our visit in view of what has happened".

Queen Beatrix also cancelled a dinner for ambassadors to the Netherlands.

With a general election next Wednesday, one of the closest friends and advisers of Mr Fortuyn demanded that the political party he founded be disbanded.The surprise comments came from millionaire and TV personality Harry Mens after the Prime Minister announced that the elections would go ahead.

Mr Mens claimed that Mr Fortuyn would not have wished people to vote for the party he founded without him leading it, adding that without him it was meaningless.

Under the Dutch electoral system votes are cast for each party starting with the first name on the list. This which remains that, despite his death, of Mr Fortuyn in the case of his Party Lijst Fortuyn.

Earlier in the day party leaders told the Prime Minister that Mr Fortuyn would have wanted them to continue the battle.

No opinion polls have been held since the killing and all the political parties have abandoned their campaigns as a mark of respect but it is predicted that many who might never have supported Mr Fortuyn may now do so in his memory.

Mr Pat Cox MEP, president of the European Parliament, also condemned the killing.

"On behalf of the European Parliament I express our profound solidarity with the Dutch people, who have been traumatised by this shocking act, and with the family and friends of Pim Fortuyn."