AMSTERDAM Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders has been hit by a further prominent resignation from his party after leading an anti-Moroccan chant, deepening the crisis for his Party for Freedom (PVV) which had been leading in opinion polls.
Laurence Stassen, who heads the PVV in the European Parliament, announced her resignation late on Friday in a statement circulated by Dutch news agency ANP.
Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant at a rally after municipal elections last week, asking supporters in The Hague: "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?"
The crowd chanted: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!", to which Wilders responded: "We'll take care of that."
The comments unleashed widespread condemnation in the Netherlands and abroad. Thousands of people filed complaints of discrimination with Dutch prosecutors, while several PVV members have quit from the national assembly and city councils.
The most recent opinion poll, published before the furor, indicated the PVV would be the single largest party in the Dutch parliament if national elections were held now.
"I deeply regret having to take this decision, but staying in my function was not an option after these comments," Stassen said in a statement. "I immediately resign as head of the party in the European Parliament."
Wilders climbed to political prominence in a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands, but his latest comments have been widely rejected, including by his own supporters.
Political commentator Tom-Jan Meeus wrote in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on Saturday that Wilders' political future had come under threat.
"He has lost his closest allies, his best member of parliament and his European assembly member," he wrote. "In two months there will be European elections and it's going to be tough campaigning for him."
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Potter)