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Dutch election winner Geert Wilders scraps proposal banning mosques and Quran

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Far-right Dutch election winner Geert Wilders made a key concession to potential coalition partners on Monday, announcing he will withdraw legislation he proposed in 2018 that included a ban on mosques and the Koran.

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The move came a day before talks to form the next government resume after November’s elections.

Abandoning the proposal could be key to winning the trust and support of three other mainstream parties that Wilders wants to co-opt into a coalition alongside his Freedom Party, known by its Dutch acronym PVV.

One of the leaders of these parties, Pieter Omtzigt of the reformist New Social Contract, has expressed fears that some of Wilders’ policies violate the Dutch Constitution which enshrines freedoms, including freedom of religion.

During a parliamentary debate last year, after the PVV won 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of the Dutch parliament in the November 22 general election, Wilders signaled a softening of his party’s strident anti-Islam stance.

“Sometimes I will have to withdraw proposals and I will,” Wilders said in the debate. “I will show the Netherlands, the parliament, Omtzigt’s party – anyone who wants to listen – that we will adapt our rules to the constitution and bring our proposals in line with it.”

Wilders will resume coalition talks on Tuesday with Omtzigt and the leaders of two other parties: outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Citizens-Peasant Movement led by Caroline van der Plas.

Among the three pieces of legislation struck down by the Wilders Party for Freedom was one from 2018 that proposes to ban “Islamic expressions.” The text of the bill defines Islam as a “violent and totalitarian ideology” and proposes a ban on mosques, the Koran, Islamic schools and the use of burqas and niqabs. The niqab is usually black and covers the face but not the eyes, worn by some Muslim women as part of an interpretation of the hijab.

Wilders did not immediately comment on the decision to withdraw the legislation, which his party announced in a brief statement.

The three laws were proposed to parliament by Wilders in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but never achieved a majority in the lower house.

In an evaluation of the proposed ban on Islamic expressions, the State Council, an independent watchdog that evaluates legislation, called on Wilders to abolish it.

“The Advisory Division advises the sponsors to abandon the bill,” the Council said in an opinion published in 2019. “It is not compatible with the fundamental elements of the democratic constitutional state; elements that the promoters intend to protect”.

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