Dutch parties tussle over approach to far right
* Labour figure calls on others to keep Wilders out of govt
* Wilders, other politicians blast move as undemocratic
* Blocking approach could push more voters towards far right
AMSTERDAM, Feb 23 (Reuters) - A Dutch Labour politician's call to keep far-right leader Geert Wilders out of a new government has stirred anger among other parties who consider the move undemocratic and likely to drive voters towards him.
Wilders and his Freedom Party have been a focus of debate since the Dutch cabinet collapsed on Saturday, as the election which could be held as early as May will be a key opportunity for the anti-immigration group to increase its influence after a stunning success at European elections last year. [ID:nLDE61J08D]
Frans Timmermans, a member of the Labour party and minister for European affairs, said on Monday that Labour would refuse to govern in coalition with Wilders' party, and he called on other parties to consider a similar approach.
"The Labour party stands for a completely different Holland than the party of Wilders, and for that reason we cannot be in a government with him," a spokeswoman for the Labour party said.
"He (Timmermans) dared other parties to think the same thing. Do they want to be in a government that segregates people by race and religion?"
Wilders has described the call as an "arrogant" attempt to ringfence his Freedom Party (PVV) and said it was an insult to the democratic system, telling Dutch media "the voter will seek punishment for this".
Members of other parties have also described the move as undemocratic and warned that it could push voters into the arms of Wilders, considered a maverick among the political elite.
While the socialist SP said it would not consider working in coalition with Wilders' party due to their policy differences, it criticised Timmermans nonetheless.
"This is unbelievably stupid. What Timmermans is saying is undemocratic, the voter can surely make up their own mind," said SP leader Agnes Kant in the Dutch daily Trouw. "Wilders can now say there is a barrier being built around him."
Members of other parties also dismissed the calls, with the head of the Liberal VVD party Mark Rutte telling Dutch radio he was not ruling anyone out as a potential coalition partner and Christian Democrat party chairman Pieter van Geel describing the comments as foolish.
POISED FOR GAINS
Wilders' party comes first or second in most polls for the next election, and could win up to 24 seats in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament after becoming the second biggest Dutch party in the EU Parliament last year.
So far the CDA and VVD have left the door open to be in a coalition with Wilders. But in recent polls, just 27 percent of respondents said their reaction to a combination of the three in a cabinet would be 'positive' or 'very positive'.
Wilders, who believes that Islam is a violent religion and what he calls the Islamisation of Europe must stop, has consistently challenged the established order with his ferocious debating style, often accusing the government of cowardice.
He set up his own party after he was forced out of the VVD, and has lived under guard since 2004, when a Dutch-Moroccan killed filmmaker and Islam critic Theo van Gogh.
He has rallied support amongst many Dutch people who are uncomfortable with the rapid changes in their country, and has filled the void left by populist Pim Fortuyn who had called for an end to immigration before he was gunned down in 2002. (Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Jon Hemming)