Dutch polls campaign hits fever pitch amid row with Turkey

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was attending an election debate in Eindhoven

Dutch political leaders hit the campaign trail Saturday, criss-crossing the country to woo voters ahead of next week's elections now overshadowed by a bitter row with Turkey.

On the final weekend before Wednesday's elections, the leaders of six of the top political parties were converging on the southern city of Eindhoven for a key televised debate.

Notable by his absence was far-right MP Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) is within a whisker of topping the polls even though he has largely eschewed traditional campaign events.

The Dutch polls are being closely watched as a key litmus test of the rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe, with elections due in other countries later in the year.

But just four days ahead of the vote, The Netherlands found itself embroiled in a bitter row with Turkey after the Turkish foreign minister was banned from attending a rally in Rotterdam to drum up support for Ankara's high-stakes referendum next month.

Erdogan hit back angrily saying the decision to refuse to allow Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's plane to land showed that the Dutch were "the vestiges of the Nazis, they are fascists."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was attending the debate in Eindhoven, denounced Erdogan's comments as "crazy" and "way out line".

- Women's March -

The peroxide-haired Wilders, who was campaigning on the streets of the southern town of Valkenberg, welcomed the decision and credited the "heavy PVV pressure" on the government.

Dubbed the "debate of the South," Saturday's televised event was to hear from party leaders how they would tackle issues such as crime, the economy, the greying population and drugs.

But hundreds of kilometres away further north, thousands of people gathered to take part in a "Women's March" in Amsterdam to combat hatred and intolerance.

Modelled on the marches which took place across the globe after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, participants donned pink and orange so-called "pussy hats" and demanded greater equality and inclusiveness in The Netherlands.

Just before Saturday's debate, Jesse Klaver, the leader of the left-wing ecologists GroenLinks was going door-to-door on the streets of Eindhoven.

The 30-year-old drew some 5,000 people to a US-style debate in central Amsterdam earlier this week, said to be the largest political gathering ever held in th country, and is seen as a potential kingmaker for the next coalition government.

Rutte's Liberal VVD, the ruling partner in the outgoing coalition, is narrowly ahead and expected to win 24 seats on Wednesday, according to the latest polls.

Wilders and his PVV and the long-established Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)party are predicted to take 22 each.

The polls also suggest that the left-wing ecologists GroenLinks could complete a stunning rise by winning 20 seats.

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