Geert Wilders on trial on charges of inciting hatred

The Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders, a key player in efforts to form a new government, yesterday accused judges trying him on charges of inciting hatred of scandalous bias and demanded they be replaced.

Mr Wilders, who has 24-hour police guard because of death threats, went on trial over comments including a comparison he made between the Islamic faith and Nazism. The prosecutor, reacting to complaints about Mr Wilders, originally said he was protected by the right to free speech, but a court overruled him and ordered that Mr Wilders be charged.

The anti-racism group the Netherlands Admits Colour, which helped initiate the case against Mr Wilders, has placed 100 comments by Mr Wilders online to back its allegation that he is responsible for xenophobia and discrimination.

"I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back, but that doesn't mean I've said everything attributed to me," Mr Wilders said before invoking his right to remain silent.

That stance prompted the presiding judge to say that Mr Wilders had been accused by others of making statements while avoiding debate and that it appeared he was doing the same in court.

"I find it ... inappropriate, improper and even scandalous the chairman of the court interprets this and comments on it," Mr Wilders said at a separate hearing hastily held to discuss concerns raised by his lawyer Bram Moszkowicz about the impartiality of the judges.

"The appearance of bias ... has been invoked. A fair process is no longer possible," Wilders added.

Judges adjourned the trial and will decide at about 1200 GMT today on the issue of the judges' impartiality. If the court rules in favour of the defence's objections, new judges must be imposed, delaying the trial for months.

The trial comes at an awkward time for Mr Wilders, whose Freedom Party is poised to gain a powerful role in the running of the country through its support for a minority government made up of the Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrat (CDA) parties. A CDA congress voted in favour of entering into a minority government with support from the Freedom Party on Saturday, but remains split over the prospect of relying on Mr Wilders' support.