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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Thousands flock to honour Fortuyn
Mourners leave Rotterdam Cathedral
Many were overcome as they left the cathedral
Thousands of people from all over the Netherlands are paying their last respects in Rotterdam to the murdered politician Pim Fortuyn.

Fortuyn, who had been due to lead his controversial anti-immigration party into next week's general election, was shot dead on Monday in the city of Hilversum.

We have no idea how many people are here. We have been told to expect 100,000 by the time they close the church

Senior Rotterdam police officer
His body is lying at the city's Roman Catholic cathedral.

Many had been queuing for five hours for the chance to file past his open coffin.

By early afternoon, the crowd was so large that the cathedral doors were opened half-an-hour early to ease the congestion.

Once inside, they filed two-by-two up the aisle to the altar where Fortuyn's body - dressed in a dark suit and a sharp golden tie - lay in a lacquered white coffin.

Emotional tributes

Mourners said the atmosphere inside the 16th-century Laurentius and Elisabeth Cathedral was heavily charged with emotion, the silence broken by sobbing or even the occasional gasp of disbelief.

Renco Valkman, 31, of Dordrecht, a media adviser, joined the queue when there were already several hundred people ahead of him.

He said: "He was a very, very special person whose ideas were shared by an awful lot of people in our country.

Pim Fortuyn
Fortuyn: Openly gay but said to be a very religious Roman Catholic
"People call him a racist, but how can all these people be racists, too?"

Asslean Rajcomar, from Alkmaar, who said she was of Hindu origin, said: "He was a good person, very honest. He spoke the truth about things that are happening in Dutch society and I'm going to vote for his party now."

Denise Jensen, 17, of The Hague, said: "He was the first person to stand up and tell the truth about what is happening in this country, saying things that others were too afraid to say."

Her mother, Maria Jensen, agreed. "He was a very brave and very honest man, who shook people out of their complacency and he gets my vote," she said.

Suspect remanded

The man suspected of murdering Fortuyn - 32-year-old animal rights campaigner Volkert van der Graaf - was remanded in custody on Wednesday for another 10 days.

Thousands of people have signed the book of condolence for the murdered politician.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan, in The Hague, says the Dutch nation is united in condemning the killing - regarded as a slap in the face for democracy.

Women wait with floral tributes
The killing has shocked every part of Dutch society
Leading politicians decided that the lying in state would be a fitting gesture to the flamboyant, openly homosexual political newcomer who took Dutch consensus politics by storm.

His body will be carried in procession through Rotterdam on Friday, then back to the cathedral, where interim Prime Minister Wim Kok will lead mourners at a funeral mass.

Canvassing for the 15 May election will be suspended on Friday as a mark of respect to the dead politician, who headed the newly formed List Pim Fortuyn (LPF).

After the ceremony, Fortuyn's coffin will be interred temporarily in his family's vault in the north-western town of Driehuis-Westerveld before it is finally buried at Pordemone in northern Italy, where he had a holiday home.

Anti-immigration campaign

Fortuyn had courted controversy by campaigning against immigration, partly on the grounds that many immigrants did not accept the liberal values he himself represented.

Under Fortuyn, the LPF had been tipped to win about 17% of the vote, and could have entered the government.

With no time to alter the ballot-papers, Fortuyn's name will still appear on top of the LPF's list of 52 candidates.

Mr van der Graaf refused to make a statement when he appeared at a closed hearing before an Amsterdam judge on Wednesday.

The public prosecutor said ammunition found at the suspect's house matched the calibre of the bullets which killed Fortuyn.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Members of the LPF stress that Fortuyn was not actively promoting any causes perceived as being "anti-animal rights".

See also:

08 May 02 | Uefa Cup
Low-key plans for Uefa final
07 May 02 | Europe
Dutch press in shock
09 May 02 | Europe
In pictures: Pim Fortuyn mourned
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