BRUSSELS, May 6 (UPI) -- Three days before he was shot to death, Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch right-wing leader, met in Rotterdam with a small group of foreign reporters including this United Press International correspondent and described his policies as pragmatic but "with a heart."
When a correspondent compared him to the French torch-bearer of the European far right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Dutch politician was furious. "I'm not anti-Muslim, not anti-foreigner and not anti-immigration," he said, jabbing his finger angrily.
But some of the comments he had made in the past about Islam and immigration don't bear this out.
Fortuyn had described Muslim culture as "backward," blamed the recent rise in violent crime in his country on young Moroccan, Turkish and West Indian immigrants and said that the Netherlands was too crowded to take in any more immigrants.
In the local elections in March, his Lijst Fortuyn party shocked Dutch politics by winning a third of the votes in Rotterdam, the Netherlands' second largest city, with the slogan "Holland is full."
He looked set to take the national stage by storm in general elections on May 15.
But one can see why the comparison with the aggressive former French paratrooper rankled Fortuyn. "Professor Pim" -- as he was known in the Netherlands -- was an openly gay former sociology teacher with a penchant for ballet, spaniels and dapper three-piece suits, who had desperately tried to distance himself from Le Pen since the National Front's spectacular success in the first round of the presidential campaign.
Unlike Le Pen's opposition to the European Union, Fortuyn described the 15-member club as a "phenomenal experiment."
The National Front boss would like to send a fair chunk of France's immigrant population on the first boat home, but the maverick Dutch politician advocated doing more to integrate the two million immigrants who have already settled in the Netherlands.
And whereas Le Pen describes himself as a left-winger on social issues, Fortuyn was definitely on the right.
In cozy, consensual Netherlands, such views caused consternation among the country's chattering classes, but seem to have struck a chord with a sizeable chunk of disaffected voters.
Opinion polls predicted that the politician -- whose motto was "I say what I think and do what I say" -- would win between 15 and 20 percent of the national vote in next week's elections.
This would have given Fortuyn a fair chance of entering government -- if he found a political party willing to do business with him.
The ruling Socialist Party had refused to enter into a coalition with the former Marxist agitator, and the opposition Liberals and Christian Democrats were keen to keep him at arm's distance. But Fortuyn thrived on being the man who broke the mold of Dutch politics.
"It is understandable the other political parties want to demonize me because there is no better way of taking votes off me," he told United Press International Friday.
The right-wing leader talked scathingly about Prime Minister Wim Kok's Socialists, who have been in power for eight years. "That party belongs in the past and we should get rid of it," he said, adding: "the Socialists have an incredible faith in the power of the state, while I have an incredible faith in the well-educated citizens of this country."
If this sounds like Margaret Thatcher, that is because "Professor Pim" was an ardent admirer of the former Conservative leader's free market philosophy. He had promised to cut red tape, tighten social security hand-outs and lighten the tax burden if he became prime minister.
He had also vowed to clamp down on violent crime by building extra prison cells and packing more people into them. "Why is it, in the Netherlands, that we can allow four elderly people to a room in a nursing home, but not four criminals to a cell?" he asked.
This was vintage Fortuyn -- promising a hand-up to hard-working, law-abiding Dutch men and women in the same breath as pledging to stamp-out anti-social behavior among the Netherlands' growing underclass.
It also explains why it was so difficult to pigeon-hole the self-proclaimed "people's politician" who turned up for meetings in a chauffeur-driven Daimler.
"I don't believe in the separation of left and right," he told reporters in Rotterdam. "In the modern world, it is a question of good versus bad, new or old-fashioned and whether it works or not that counts." No wonder he described his party's policies as "businesslike, but with a heart."
It was highly unlikely that Fortuyn would have been named prime minister. And whether his party will survive without him is hard to tell. Certainly there was no designated successor, but the darling of Rotterdam's anti-immigrant right had changed the nature of Dutch politics forever.
In an emotional address to the Dutch nation Monday, Prime Minister Wim Kok said that Fortuyn's slaying was "deeply tragic, first of all for him and for all his loved ones."
No doubt the right-winger had a lot of enemies, but he also had a lot of admirers. In addition to his no-nonsense political beliefs, voters were also attracted to the witty, urbane and slightly eccentric image Fortuyn cultivated.
On Friday, following his interview with the international correspondents, he talked to UPI of his love of fine wines and food, ballet, literature and classical music and also reminisced about his life before he became a controversial political star.
"Before I went into politics I was big into clubbing. At the end of the evening, I could frequently be found in gay bars. It was very pleasant, very nice, very normal," he said.
In the end, even his fiercest political enemies were united in grief at the loss of a man who lived life to the full.