Police turned out in force for a visit today by Dutch politicians Geert Wilders to the Antwerp branch of Vlaams Belang (VB), according to the national agency for risk assessment OCAD.
Wilders stepped out of the car at 10.50 am at the Theaterplein, while the market known as the Vogelenmarkt was in full swing. He was greeted by Vlaams Belang list leader Filip Dewinter. Together they strolled to a popular food stall. “I brought the sun”, said Wilders, smiling.
The visit by the PVV politician was aimed at inviting support for Vlaams Belang in the run-up to the municipal elections in November. Antwerp has always been a VB stronghold, but the party has seen support slipping in favour of the more mainstream Flemish N-VA party run by Bart De Wever.
The event has been classified as level three – the second-highest of all – and the same level that applied in Brussels after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.
Level three risk is the second-highest of all, but OCAD said it will only be applied for the location and duration of the meeting, The Brussels Times reported. The presence of Wilders may attract troublemakers, they said.
Wilders has meanwhile cancelled his cartoon competition featuring drawings of Mohammed. A cartoon of Mohammed was published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 which led to violent protests worldwide, including threats to newspapers and cartoonists, and eventually to the murder of 12 people in an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo – which also published the cartoons – in Paris in January 2015.
Wilders left this afternoon after his visit to Antwerp. The Dutch politician not only visited the Antwerp market but also the historical the Leopold De Waelplaats. “Vlaams Belang is the only party that has the guts to call a spade a spade, ” he said.
Additional security measures were taken as a result of the visit. Wilders has received death threats recently.
Antwerp police had fenced off the market on the Theaterplein and agents supervised the visitors at the entrances. There were water cannons and reinforcements ready in case there were incidents. A police helicopter hovered above the crowded market, which is also known for the many Dutch people who like to visit the market.
Antwerp police’s Sven Lommaert told VRT news: “Security level 3 means stringent security measures. Our officers will be visible, but will also mingle with the crowds. Mobile police reinforcements will be held at the ready. If you visit the Bird Market today, you will notice the police presence”.
After his visit to the market, where Wilders took the time for photos with supporters, he left for the Leopold De Waelplaats, to lay a wreath at the statue of Willem van Oranje and Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde. There he made a speech, together with Dewinter, and then left again.
“Islam and freedom do not go together”, according to Wilders. The resistance against Islam in Europe is clearly a priority for both Wilders and Vlaams Belang. “We do not provoke, Islam provokes,” said Dewinter. “They provoke with every additional mosque, every headscarf in our city.”
According to Dewinter it is high time that Antwerp looked a little more to the Netherlands and less to the south. “Antwerp must be the southernmost city of the Netherlands, not the northernmost of Islam.”
“Our heads of government are also responsible for the attacks in Europe,” said Wilders. The European leaders never make choices in support of their own people, but rather for themselves and for fortune seekers and migrants. Our own people are discriminated against in reverse.” He also warned that “if Antwerp falls, all of Europe falls.”
During the visit, Marjon Jongbloed, a Dutch resident of Antwerp who was in sixth place for Vlaams Belang in the upcoming municipal elections, was also presented. “She is actually a candidate from Geert Wilders on our list”, Dewinter explained.