Right-wing, populist gay politician is shot to death in Netherlands

Anti-immigrant candidate had been strong in polls


THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Pim Fortuyn, a maverick right-wing populist and a leading candidate in next week's national elections, was shot and killed last night, shocking a country that sees itself as a peaceful and equitable place and raising the specter of violence stalking European politics.

Fortuyn, 54, was a flamboyant and openly gay former sociology professor who stunned the Dutch political establishment this spring when he won power in the country's second city, Rotterdam, with the same strong anti-immigrant message that has helped propel a resurgent far right to political triumphs in Austria, Denmark, Belgium and, through Jean-Marie Le Pen, in France.

Opinion polls published yesterday before the killing had predicted that Fortuyn could get up to one-third of the vote in the May 15 elections, which might now be postponed.

He was approached about 6 p.m. by a single gunman in the parking lot of a radio studio in the central Dutch town of Hilversum, where he had just finished an interview.

Police said last night that they had arrested a 33-year-old Dutch citizen who had confessed to the shooting, but they did not give his identity nor a motive for the killing.

Fortuyn died almost immediately from wounds to his head and neck, police said.

Prime Minister Wim Kok, who had earlier warned that Fortuyn's ideas were generating hatred, addressed the nation last night in a deeply emotional speech. "I feel devastated by this," he said. "What went through my head is: This is the Netherlands, the Netherlands, a nation of tolerance."

He called the killing a tragedy not only for the people close to Fortuyn but for "our nation" and for "our democracy."

All candidates for the elections, due May 15, agreed immediately to halt their campaigns. Kok's Cabinet, which itself resigned last month after a report that criticized the behavior of the Dutch government during the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, debated for almost two hours whether to postpone the elections before Kok decided it should first discuss the issue with the leaders of Fortuyn's party.

Fortuyn, a former Marxist who defended an eclectic mix of ideas from both left and right, had become the most hotly debated Dutch politician because of his frankness, his passion and his starkly anti-immigrant platform, directed particularly against Muslims who he said posed a threat to cherished national values such as giving full rights to women and to gays.

Islam, he said, was "backward" because it refused modernity. Echoing Le Pen and Austria's Joerg Haider, he said immigration should stop because the Netherlands is "now full up."

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