Tensions over Europe’s migrant crisis bubbled over in a Dutch town Saturday as far-right politician Geert Wilders handed out fake pepper spray, saying women must defend themselves against Muslim men.
Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) only holds 12 seats currently in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has seen his popularity soar on the back of the bitter refugee debate fuelling his desire of becoming the next prime minister.
On Saturday in the wake of the sexual attacks on women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Wilders used a rally in the western Dutch town of Spijkenisse to again push his blunt message against what he calls an “Islamic invasion.”
“We must close the borders,” Wilders said handing out fake pepper spray — which is illegal in the Netherlands — filled instead with red paint.
Women should be allowed to carry pepper spray, he said, to protect themselves against what he termed “Islamic testosterone bombs.”
But his radical rhetoric drew a counter demonstration from a few dozen women protestors who shouted out: “Wilders is racist, no feminist.”
About 10 women were arrested at the protest, Dutch media said.
The Netherlands, a country of 17 million people, took in record numbers of asylum-seekers in 2015. About 54,000 of the one million refugees, who have travelled into Europe from the Middle East and Africa, have been registered there.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned this week the EU has only about two months to tackle the crisis before a new spike in refugees in the spring.
“Let me be clear: the current numbers aren’t sustainable. We are running out of time. We need a sharp reduction in the coming six to eight weeks,” Rutte told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday.
Tensions have been simmering across the Netherlands as the government has sought to work with local provinces to find shelter for the thousands of refugees.
Protests in some towns against planned refugee centers have flared into full-scale riots leading to arrests and some damage.
The Dutch daily Trouw Saturday said a leaked report had warned the number of refugees could hit 93,000 this year.
With Rutte’s ruling coalition under strain, the Trouw reported the cabinet was planning to meet with local provinces next month to draw up a plan for housing the newcomers.
Elections are not due until 2017, but according to a poll collated by national broadcaster NOS if they were held today Wilders’s PVV could grab 36 seats — enough to put it in the driving seat for coalition talks.
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