Dutch far-right candidate Geert Wilders has ruled out forming a coalition with prime minister Mark Rutte and blamed him for the diplomatic spat with Turkey, during the pair's heated debate ahead of the country's elections on Wednesday (15 March).
Wilders from the Freedom Party (PVV) said that Ankara's spiky reaction and protests that followed the blocking of two Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in the Netherlands, were expressions of discontent stemming from Turkish people not properly integrating into the Netherlands.
But during the debate in Rotterdam on Monday (13 March), the prime minister dismissed this, saying he had no regrets over how he handled the situation, adding: "80% of Turkish integrate within the Dutch population. The rallies are completely unacceptable".
Unsurprisingly, the two candidates sparred over immigration between the European Union and Turkey.
Rutte said that the only way to stop more people coming into the Netherlands was to strike deals with the countries from where the boats depart and that Wilders' proposal to close the borders would not work, adding: "Closing borders is an illusion, people will still come in".
The pair once worked together but the acrimony between them has grown after Wilders left Rutte's Freedom and Democracy Party (VVD) in 2006 to form the PVV, although it did prop up Rutte's minority government for two years from 2010. But any such future co-operation was ruled out when Wilders said: "I will not work with such a party".
His rejection of any joint deal had been preempted earlier in the day when Rutte said of Wilders: "he ran away from his responsibility. He put party interest above national interest".
Rutte painted Wilders as a candidate who could not stick to his promises, such as monitoring his proposed ban on the Quran. Rutte said: "There will not be a Quran police. Another fake promise!"
But Wilders countered by saying to Rutte: "No one in the Netherlands believes you anymore".
Whichever of the candidates the Dutch population will believe will be decided on Wednesday (15 March) when the polls open at 7.30am local time (6.30 GMT) and close at 9pm (8pm GMT) with the result expected the next day.
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