Dutch far-right leader Wilders tells court: 'I am no racist'
Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders answers questions during a Reuters interview in Budapest, Hungary, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo
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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch anti-immigration party leader Geert Wilders told judges at the end of his discrimination trial on Wednesday "I am no racist" and said anyone who wanted to silence him would have to kill him first.
Virtually tied in opinion polls with the VVD party of conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte ahead of a March 15 parliamentary election, Wilders' tough stance on immigration has set the national agenda for a decade.
He made the comments in a final statement in his trial on charges of discrimination and inciting hatred for remarks during 2014 campaigning that he wanted "fewer" Moroccans in the Netherlands.
"I am not a racist and my supporters are not racists either," he said. "I speak not only on my behalf. My voice is the voice of many. In the name of all those Dutch citizens I call on you to acquit me, acquit us."
Prosecutors, who reject Wilders' claim that the trial is about the right to free speech, demanded last Thursday that he pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,400) but did not ask for a prison sentence to be imposed. [nL8N1DI34R]
"I stand alone today, but I am not the only one on trial here. You will be judging millions of men and women in the Netherlands," Wilders told the court during 30 minutes of politically charged remarks.
He said that calling for fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands was obviously not meant as a call for genocide, but to carry out his party's agenda, including expelling criminals with dual Moroccan nationality, a stricter immigration policy and an "active voluntary repatriation policy".
Wilders has never governed, but his anti-Islam, anti-EU stances have won him widespread public support.
He told the judges not to be puppets of the government, which he said brought the trial to try to silence opposition.
"Anyone who wants to stop me will have to kill me first," he said.
Wilders, who won more than a million votes in 2012 and is poised to double that number next March, said that more than 40 percent of Dutch people agree with his call for fewer Moroccans.
He says Moroccans make up a disproportionate number of welfare recipients and criminals in the country, whose 400,000 Moroccans make up about 2 percent of the population.
At a televised event on March 19, 2014, Wilders had asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans. They chanted: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!". A smiling Wilders responded, "We'll take care of that."
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Louise Ireland)
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