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Dutch Voters Divided As Election Signals Another Test For Anti-Immigrant Populism


I'm Lakshmi Singh.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

SINGH: Violent protests broke out in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam overnight as Turks took to the streets. They were protesting a decision by the Dutch government to block two Turkish ministers from visiting the Netherlands. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's said Holland was acting like a banana republic. For more on this diplomatic blow-up and its broader global implications, we turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt who is in Amsterdam. Frank, first, how did relations between these two NATO allies spiral downward so quickly?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The situation here is this - the Turkish foreign minister was planning to fly here to rally expatriate Turks. There's a significant population of Turkish people here in the Netherlands. And he wants them to vote in a referendum in Turkey next month to give the president there a lot more power. When Turkey's family minister defied the Dutch and drove here to Rotterdam yesterday, the Dutch police surrounded her car, and then they actually escorted her out of the country.

SINGH: So what's the response in Turkey?

LANGFITT: Well, the president there, of course, is furious. He has called the Dutch government Nazi remnants. He's also blaming the blocking of his ministers actually on Dutch politics. Here's the quote. He says, if you can sacrifice Turkish-Dutch relations for an election on Wednesday, you'll pay a price.

SINGH: When Erdogan says this was driven by Dutch elections, what's he talking about?

LANGFITT: Well, there's a much bigger political context here. You know, there's a big worry about populism here in the Netherlands, especially after the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S., and also in the U.K., the vote to leave the European Union. The Netherlands goes to the polls next week, and it's going to be pretty closely watched outside of the country. Mark Rutte, he's the prime minister, he's running in a close race with populist Geert Wilders. Some call Geert Wilders sort of the Dutch Trump. He wants to close the Netherlands' borders, shut mosques, ban the Quran. And Wilders is also really anti-Turkey. He made this clear to the Turks in a video back in 2015.


GEERT WILDERS: Your government is fooling you into believing that one day you will become a member of the European Union. Well, forget it. You are no Europeans, and you will never be. An Islamic state like Turkey does not belong to Europe. All the values Europe stands for - freedom, democracy, human rights - are incompatible with Islam. So Turkey, stay away from us. You are not welcome here.

LANGFITT: So some of the Dutch, they think Rutte took a hard line on the Turks on Saturday to kind of outflank Wilders, who's been pushing the political debate here in the country to the right.

SINGH: How do voters in the Netherlands feel about Wilders?

LANGFITT: Very, very divided. You know, some people see him as looking out for ordinary Dutch. Others say he's completely against the tolerant traditions of the Netherlands. Other people say he gets too much attention, including from the international press, that he's not going to poll that high in these elections coming up. I followed Wilders on the campaign trail yesterday and ran into a counter-protester. Her name's Sanne Elisabeth, and she says Wilders is sort of using the identity politics to pit people against one another. And it reminds her of kind of the things that she saw similar strategies, from her perception, in the U.S. presidential, and, of course, the Brexit campaign last year.

SANNE ELISABETH: It's divide and conquer. The same - it's the same. They want white people. They want white privilege, white supremacy to be defended, but it's unreasonable. We are all equal.

SINGH: Frank, beyond the Netherlands, how important are this week's elections?

LANGFITT: It's going to be really closely watched. And some people will see it, certainly outside the Netherlands, as a third test of the strength of sort of an anti-immigrant populism that we saw driving part of Brexit and certainly part of Trump's win in the United States. If Wilders wins, he's unlikely to be prime minister. Other leading parties say they won't work with him in a coalition government. But if he gets the most votes, it will be a bit of a shot in the arm for populist - other populists in Europe, like Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France. And, of course, France is going into the first round of voting in their national elections beginning next month.

SINGH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Lakshmi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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