Dutch appear to have rejected boosted data spying law


The Hague (AFP)

Dutch voters appeared Thursday to have narrowly voted against new laws giving security services boosted powers to snoop on emails and online data, amid growing global fears about internet privacy.

With some 80 percent of votes counted from Wednesday's referendum, the results were still on a knife-edge.

The country was split, with 48.9 percent of voters opposing the legislation and 47.2 percent in favour, the NOS public broadcaster said.

Official results are not due until March 29.

The referendum, triggered by a group of Amsterdam students as a citizens initiative, was held alongside municipal elections across 380 Dutch local councils.

Although it is non-binding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has vowed he will take the results of the referendum seriously, and a "no" vote may send the legislation back to the government for changes.

- 'Historic results' -

Results from the municipal elections were fractured, with local parties doing well, and support slipping for many traditional mainstream parties such as Rutte's Liberal VVD.

The biggest winner was the eco-friendly leftist party GroenLinks, which emerged as the largest in several major cities, including Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem and Eindhoven.

"I am very proud, these are historic results for our party," its popular young leader Jesse Klaver told a late-night celebration party.

But with all eyes still on the rise of the far-right and populist parties in Europe, the anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) of MP Geert Wilders also boosted its presence across the country.

Taking a gamble, the PVV for the first time ran in 30 councils and won seats in each one, the Dutch news agency ANP said, adding it now had about 74 councillors across the Netherlands.

Previously the fiercly anti-immigrant party had only been represented in The Hague and Almere, where it retained seats even though support fell.

Local parties also did well hanging on to power in places such as Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, where the right-wing populist Leefbaar Rotterdam remains the biggest with 11 seats on the 45 seat council.

And new kid on the block, far-right Forum for Democracy set up only a couple of years ago and led by the charismatic, self-styled intellectual Thierry Baudet, also made a splash by winning two seats in left-leaning Amsterdam.

Baudet's brash style, calling for a new Dutch nationalism and raging against the European Union, is increasingly seen as splintering the far-right vote, posing a challenge to Wilders.