Thousands of demonstrators crowded Amsterdam's central square Saturday, braving wind and sleet to show their opposition to anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders.
The protest, called "Netherlands Shows Its Colors," is primarily a reaction in advance to the short film Wilders said he will release later this month criticizing the Koran as a "fascist" book.
One protester carried a sign saying "standing together against the right wing populist witch-hunt."
"I'm very much against Geert Wilders and racism in general, but I think it's really important to show not only Holland but the rest of the world that there's a lot of people who do not agree with his ideas," Elisa Trepp said.
Wilders, who said he is not racist, heads a reactionary party with nine seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, elected on an anti-immigration platform.
While the exact contents of his 15-minute movie, due to be released by March 31, remain unknown, Wilders has said it will underscore his view that Islam's holy book is fascist.
Dutch officials fear the movie could spark violent protests in Muslim countries, similar to those two years ago after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.
But no prominent politicians were among the 2,000-3,000 people who police estimated turned up for the demonstration, to the frustration of some attendees.
"The government could really do something. That's in the interest of the country — stop him, just stop him," said Hassan Iaeti, who traveled hours from the far south of the country to attend.
He said he believed Wilders is abusing the right of freedom of speech, which he said has limits.
"You can criticize Muslims themselves, but not their religion and not our prophet — that's our belief."
Echoes of van Gogh
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said that while he rejects Wilders' views, he supports his freedom of speech — but warns him the film may put Dutch national interests at risk. Protesters in Afghanistan burnt Wilders in effigy on Friday and demanded Dutch troops withdraw from the NATO mission there.
In November 2004, a Muslim radical killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for perceived insults to Islam. Wilders, under constant police protection, said it is his duty to speak out against what he sees as a threat to Dutch culture posed by Islam.
Dutch anti-terrorism authorities have said the risk of an attack are "substantial" and requested all national politicians inform them of their upcoming travel plans due to security concerns.
A Dutch court will hear a complaint lodged by Muslim groups seeking to bar Wilders from releasing the film and punish him for earlier anti-Islam remarks under hate crime laws.
The case filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation will be heard March 28, but there is no legal barrier preventing Wilders from releasing his film before then.
Wilders has said he will release his movie on the Internet after television stations refused to air it and plans for a press screening were canceled due to high security costs.