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Voting ends in the Netherlands with exit polls suggesting win for PM

Emmanuel Dunand, AFP | Dutch Prime Minister and leader of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) Mark Rutte arrives to attend the EU summit in Brussels on March 9.

The Netherlands' main exit poll suggests that Prime Minister Mark Rutte has won Dutch parliamentery elections, beating out anti-immigration far-right challenger Geert Wilders in a vote seen as a test of populism's rise in Europe.


For two-time Prime Minister Rutte, the election indicated that an economic recovery and his hard-line handling of a diplomatic dispute with Turkey over the past week has won him increased public support.

The Ipsos polling company gave Rutte's party 31 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament compared to 19 seats for three other parties, including that of Wilders.

For Wilders the poll was a test of whether his nationalist, anti-Muslim rhetoric fired up a large portion of the population. He managed to increase his party's number of seats from 15 to 19 but the result was a disappointment for a candidate seeking to make his Freedom Party (PVV) the largest in parliament.

Reacting to the preliminary results, Wilders vowed to carry on. “Thank you PVV voters! We won seats!” Wilders said in a tweet. “The first victory is in! And Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!”

Weeks or even months of coalition talks are expected to follow the vote.

Complicating the political landscape in the run-up to the vote was a diplomatic spat with Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unleashed a string of invective at the Dutch for barring Turkish ministers from addressing a pro-Erdogan rally in Rotterdam over the weekend.

Erdogan accused the Dutch government of acting like “Nazi remnants” for barring his ministers from addressing expatriate Turks and insulted the Dutch over the actions of their peacekeepers during the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

Turkey has gone as far as threatening to scrap a March 2016 deal with the EU that has substantially reduced the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe. "We can stop [the deal] unilaterally,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told 24 TV in an interview on Wednesday.

"From now on we can say, 'We will not apply it and it will be over,'" he added.

The exit poll was conducted at 43 of the 9,300 polling stations across the country late on Wednesday and has a margin of error of two percentage points.

Official results are expected by midnight.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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