ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Thousands of mourners on Thursday filed past the open casket of Pim Fortuyn in a solemn, often tearful tribute to the politician whose brash taboo-breaking policies and violent death ensured him a place in Dutch history.
Fortuyn was gunned down on Monday after giving an election campaign interview in the town of Hilversum. On Wednesday, police charged a 32-year-old Dutchman with the murder. Prosecutors did not release his name, but he was identified by colleagues and by Fortuyn's party as Volkert van der Graaf, an environmental and animal rights activist.
Hundreds gathered outside the 16th-century Laurentius and Elisabeth Cathedral in Fortuyn's home city of Rotterdam several hours before the doors were opened for a public viewing — a rare tribute departing from the customary privacy accorded the funerals of even the most public figures.
"This is just confirmation for me that it really happened. Everything is so unbelievable," said Trudie Roskam, fighting back tears after leaving the darkened Roman Catholic cathedral.
The white coffin was surrounded by a growing mound of bouquets. A single rose rested on the chest of the politician, whose shaven head and elegant suits were as much a part of his image as his confrontational politics.
To the double line of mourners who walked past the coffin there was no physical sign of the fatal bullet wounds. Fortuyn was shot twice in the head, twice in the back and once in the neck.
Fortuyn's body was to lie in the cathedral until it is moved Friday to the town of Driehuis-Westerveld, on the northwestern Dutch coast, for a service at the family tomb to be attended by Prime Minister Wim Kok and most of the Dutch political leadership. He will be reinterred later near his vacation home in Italy.
Fortuyn's strident attacks against the government, the Dutch system of consensus politics and immigration catapulted him near the top of opinion polls before the general elections on May 15. In March, shortly after forming an ad hoc party to contest local elections, Fortuyn won an astonishing 35 percent of the vote for the Rotterdam city council.
His style and politics broke traditional Dutch barriers of political correctness, especially regarding immigration and the growing Muslim population. Fortuyn derided Islam as culturally backward and blamed Muslim immigrants for a rising crime rate and for repressing their women. He advocated closing the borders to new immigrants and diverting funds toward integrating those who already were in the country.
His death was said to be the most prominent political killing in the Netherlands since William the Silent, considered the father of the nation, was shot dead in 1584.
"I want to pay my last respects for all his efforts," said Renco van der Rassel, a 20-year-old window cleaner who waited three hours in line outside the church. "He had so much courage, he deserved respect."
Fortuyn's name will remain on the ballot in next week's election, and many of the mourners said they would vote for his party, called "Pim Fortuyn's List," even though his was the only name they knew.
"I'm still voting for Pim, even if it is just for the shock effect," said Rahim de Haas. "There's a lot wrong in politics. He gave a human face and a voice to all segments of society."
Fortuyn grew up in a devout Catholic family. He cited his religion and his homosexuality to counter accusations that he was a racist because of his anti-immigration policy, saying he knew how it felt to belong to a minority.
Police said van der Graaf was not cooperating with investigators, and the motive for the shooting was unknown. He was arrested minutes after the killing carrying a pistol, and police said they found matching ammunition at his home.
Some newspapers linked the crime to reported statements by Fortuyn saying that if elected he would work to lift a ban on breeding animals, like mink, for fur. Last year, he was quoted as expressing impatience with the environmental movement.
A former Fortuyn spokesman, Rene Warmerdam, expressed disbelief over speculation that he was slain because of his views on the environment, which barely figured in his political thinking.
"If someone could get so angry about a single off-the-cuff remark and respond in this manner he must be a mad man," said Warmerdam. He quoted Fortuyn's recent book, in which the politician wrote: "Animal welfare must be a priority, and we need to switch to less industrial production methods."