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3Novices:High turnout as Dutch vote in Europe's first far-right test

THE HAGUE // Millions of Dutch flocked to the polls on Wednesday in a test of the "patriotic revolution" promised by far-right MP Geert Wilders, with Europe closely watching the outcome amid signs his support may be waning.

Following last year's shock Brexit referendum, and Donald Trump's victory in the US, the Dutch vote is seen as a gauge of populism on the continent ahead of key elections in France and Germany this year.

The Dutch election has also been gatecrashed by an explosive row with Turkey. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan hurled a new round of abuse at The Netherlands on Wednesday, accusing the country of massacring over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

Mr Wilders voted in a school in The Hague, mobbed by hundreds of reporters, as final polls suggested he was trailing the Liberal VVD party of outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte.

"Whatever the outcome of the election today, the genie will not go back into the bottle. And this patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will stay," Mr Wilders said.

Mr Wilders has reason to be cautious however after his Freedom Party (PVV) flopped in past votes.

"Let's wait and see what the result will be," he said.

On a warm spring day, queues began swelling early and the research institute IPSOS said turnout was already "a lot" higher than at the same point in 2012 when final participation was 74 per cent.

Amid the tussle between Mr Rutte and Mr Wilders, many of the 12.9 million eligible voters had been wavering between the 28 parties running.

"This is a crucial election for The Netherlands," Mr Rutte said as he voted.

"This is a chance for a big democracy like The Netherlands to make a point ... to stop this ... domino effect of the wrong sort of populism."

Mr Wilders has pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Quran and leave the EU.

Trumpeting the country's economic growth and stability, Mr Rutte is bidding for a third term as premier of the country — one of the largest economies in the eurozone and a founding father of the European Union.

In the central Hague district of Schilderswijk, where most residents are from Turkish, Moroccan or Surinamese backgrounds, a steady flow of voters — many of them women wearing headscarves — came and went at one polling station.

However, none wanted to speak openly. "The people are feeling very delicate right now," one man said, referring to the row with Turkey.

"You'd be surprised, but some people here will vote for the PVV. They may not support Geert Wilders, but they are fed up with the criminality, perpetuated mainly by youngsters who lack the benefit of a proper education," said another man, who also asked not to be named.

* Agence France-Presse
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