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.
"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, adding that she had resigned as head of the party in the European Parliament.
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.
Wilders on Saturday stood by his comments.
"I have said nothing wrong, I have no regrets, and will apologize for nothing and to nobody," he told reporters.
He said he is fighting against the excesses of multiculturalism and the Islamisation of Dutch society, and said that in terms of having criminal records and welfare dependency, Moroccans are at the top of the list.
"I have not said that we want to chase all Moroccans from the country. I have said that we want to this with the proverbial three-stage rocket," he said.
Wilders said he wants to limit immigration of people from Islamic countries, including Morocco; to encourage voluntary emigration; and to expel "criminal Moroccans" by taking away their Dutch passports if they have dual nationality and send them back to the country of their second nationality, Morocco.
Wilders has built his political career on grabbing media attention with anti-Islam one-liners and has climbed to political prominence in a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands.
The most recent opinion poll, published before the anti-Moroccan chant furor, indicated the PVV would become the single largest party in the Dutch parliament if national elections were held now.
Some analysts say that an essentially one-man party built around Wilders will suffer little from the defections of the past days, but political commentator Tom-Jan Meeus wrote in 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."
According to a poll of 1,200 PVV voters by EenVandaag published on Saturday, 85 percent of PVV voters still have confidence in Wilders; 26 percent think he went too far.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Potter and Eric walsh)