Amsterdam, August 31:Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has cancelled a scheduled Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest here in November following widespread protest in Pakistan that raised concerns over security to the participants.
The far-right opposition Dutch lawmaker, who for years has lived under round-the-clock protection because of death threats sparked by his fierce anti-Islam rhetoric, cancelled the event following concerns of extreme threat after a 26-year-old Pakistani man was arrested who allegedly planned an attack on Wilders.
“To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead,” Geert Wilders said in a written statement, noting he did not want others endangered by the contest he had planned for November.
The contest was to have been held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building.
“It’s not just about me,” Wilders, who has a history of inflammatory statements about Islam, said in the statement. Strong opponents of the event “see not only me, but the entire Netherlands as a target”.
He followed up the statement later on Thursday with a tweet saying: “Islam showed its true face once again with death threats, fatwas and violence. However, the safety and security of my fellow countrymen comes first.”
The Dutch government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week questioned Wilders’ motive for organising the contest.
“His aim is not to have a debate about Islam. His aim is to be provocative,” Rutte said.
The planned contest sparked a death threat this week from a 26-year-old man, reportedly a Pakistani, who was arrested Tuesday in The Hague.
Starting Wednesday, thousands of Islamists set off on a protest march towards Pakistan’s capital Islamabad demanding Imran Khan’s new government sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands over the “blasphemous” competition.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik party (TLP) called off the protest after the competition was called off, a party official told Efe Friday.
Thousands of supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, who had started from the eastern city of Lahore in 300 buses and trucks and dozens of smaller vehicles on Wednesday, remained on the outskirts of the capital after Wilders cancelled the contest.
“A Tehreek-e-Labbaik delegation went to meet the government delegation led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. After successful talks and the cancellation of the blasphemous cartoons, Tehreek-e-Labbaik ended its march,” Zubair Ahmed, a spokesperson of the party told Efe.
“The blasphemous cartoon contest is cancelled and this is our moral victory,” Qureshi said at a press conference after talks with TLP.