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Fortuyn killer jailed for 18 years

By GARETH HARDING, UPI Chief European Correspondent

BRUSSELS, April 15 (UPI) -- The self-confessed killer of Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn was Tuesday jailed for 18 years by an Amsterdam court, provoking an angry reaction from supporters of the slain politician who had pushed for animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf to receive a life sentence.

Fortuyn, an openly gay former columnist who scandalized Dutch society by describing Islam as a "backward religion" was gunned down in a television studio parking lot last May, days before the country's most dramatic elections in recent times.

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Van der Graaf said he shot the maverick politician because he believed Fortuyn was a danger to democracy. However, the 33-year old vegan from the Netherlands' Bible-belt later expressed remorse for the country's first political assassination in more than three centuries.

"Every day I see it before me. I see myself shoot and Fortuyn fall," he told the court during his defense.

Presiding Judge Frans Bauduin said though "the accused went about his plan to kill the victim with calm consideration," a life sentence would be inappropriate given the fact that Van der Graaf had no criminal record and was unlikely to kill again.

Supporters of the List Pim Fortuyn, the party founded and led by the 54-year old former academic, voiced their outrage at the leniency of the sentence.

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"The LPF is shocked at the reasoning of the court...This verdict has not made Dutch politics any safer," the anti-immigration party said in a statement.

In the famously tolerant Netherlands, convicted criminals rarely serve more than two-thirds of their term, meaning that Van der Graaf -- who has already spent almost a year behind bars -- could be released in 11 years.

Theo Hiddema, a lawyer for Fortuyn's family, accused Van der Graaf of being a "rigid environmental tyrant who misled the court by using environmental arguments to suggest he had a warm heart."

Other Fortuyn fans booed and jeered after the sentence was read out to a packed court in the Dutch capital.

The Court's verdict comes a day after caretaker Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende hinted he would open talks aimed at forming a coalition government with the Conservatives and the LPF party.

Last week, negotiations between Balkenende's Christian Democrats and the leftist Labor Party broke down after almost three months of head-to-head meetings.

However, the acting premier is reluctant to invite the LPF back into government given the right-wing party's record in power last year. Balkenende's first administration collapsed in November due to infighting within Fortuyn's party.

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