UPDATE 1-Dutch companies hit by Saudi retaliation for Wilders' anti-Islam campaign - minister

Thu Jun 19, 2014 7:22am EDT

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AMSTERDAM, June 19 (Reuters) - Dutch companies are facing problems doing business in Saudi Arabia after the Saudis imposed sanctions in response to anti-Islamic stickers distributed by populist politician Geert Wilders, the Dutch foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote in a letter to parliament on Thursday that Saudi authorities had made clear to Dutch officials that trade restrictions were in place, although there has been no official notification.

"Some companies are experiencing no problems, while others are confronted with trade restrictions," he said in the letter. The Dutch government was doing all it could to resolve the problem, he said.

Trade between the countries came to nearly $5 billion in 2010 and the Netherlands accounted for nearly 4 percent of foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia that year, the Dutch government said.

Wilders, known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigration views, last December published stickers critical of Islam in the green and white colours of the Saudi flag, which was considered insulting by the Gulf kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is among the world's most conservative Muslim countries. It enforces a rigid interpretation of Islamic law, including strict gender segregation, modest dress and restrained public behaviour.

The Netherlands sent top diplomats to Riyadh last month for talks, but no resolution was reached. Timmermans plans to visit Saudi Arabia soon, but no date has been set.

Dutch officials have repeatedly distanced themselves from Wilders' anti-Muslim comments. Last month, Timmermans said the Netherlands could not be held responsible for Wilders' "adolescent" behaviour. (Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Larry King)

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