Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader (Partij Voor De Vrijheid, PVV) Geert Wilders (L) holds a banner during a protest in front of the Turkish embassy at The Hague on March 8, 2017. (AFP)
* Protest comes as Wilders slides in polls * Nationalist tries to tap into Turkish controversy * Tells Turkish foreign minister to “leave us alone” * Rotterdam mayor says would ban any rally
Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders led a small protest outside Turkey’s embassy on Wednesday, denouncing its president as a dictator, as he tried to arrest his party’s slide in opinion polls with one week to go before a parliamentary election.
Turkish politicians have announced plans to address rallies in Germany and the Netherlands to drum up support among expat Turks for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stirring disquiet in both countries and offering a campaign opportunity for Wilders. He led a few dozen activists from his anti-Islam Freedom Party who unfurled a banner protesting the Turkish foreign minister’s plans to campaign for Dutch-Turkish dual nationals to vote in an upcoming referendum to expand Erdogan’s powers.
“Leave us alone, lobby in your own country, and stay away,” Wilders said of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plan to hold a rally in Rotterdam. The city’s mayor later said the minister’s appearance had been cancelled. “Mr Erdogan is a mere dictator,” Wilders said. “We would not allow lobbying for North Korea or Saudi Arabia in our country either,” he added, calling for the entire Turkish cabinet to be declared “persona non grata”.
Wilders’ opposition right-wing Freedom Party, which wants to shutter mosques, ban the Koran, quit the European Union (US) and stop Muslim immigration, led opinion polls for most of 2016 but is now losing ground to the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA) and the far-left Socialists. It is running second behind the pro-business liberals of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, which along with the CDA has toughened some of its rhetoric on immigration and Islam in the hope