Anti-fascist demonstrators have scuffled with police in London after Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician, screened a film denouncing Islam and the Quran to Britain's House of Lords.
Wilders, riding an electoral wave in the Netherlands based on his anti-immigration populism, screened the film to about 60 people, including six members of the UK's upper house.
The MP's film, Fitna, released in 2008, urged Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" passages from the Quran and juxtaposes images of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US with quotations from the text.
The Dutch politician was invited to show his film in the UK by Lord Pearson, a member of the country's upper house who belongs to Britain's UK Independence Party.
At a news conference after the screening, Wilders described Islam as a "totalitarian ideology" and made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad.
He said he had hopes of becoming prime minister after the June 9 election, although Dutch political analysts say it is unlikely he could garner a majority coalition if his party emerged the largest.
If elected, Wilders said he would close all Islamic schools, ban construction of new mosques, and expel Dutch Muslim criminals if they held dual citizenship.
The visit, and the controversy surrounding it, added to Wilders' visibility as he heads into a national election campaign with his popularity soaring and polls predicting that his Freedom Party (PPV) could become the largest in the next Dutch parliament.
Wilders' party scored a stunning success in local elections this week, winning one city outright and coming second in another.
However, the relatively new PPV lacks a national organisation and declined to field candidates in nearly 400 other town hall elections.
Outside the parliament on Friday, dozens of protesters jeered and chanted: "Fascist thugs off our streets!"
The protest, by Unite Against Fascism, was countered by a rival demonstration further down the River Thames of more than 100 people from the English Defence League, a self-described "counter-jihad" movement with links to Britain's far-right.
Police wrestled with anti-fascist protesters trying to block a street in front of the parliament building, piling many of them into a double decker bus.
Jack Kavanagh from Ireland was one of the people pulled out of the crowd.
Kavanagh, 21, said he was trying to block the pro-Wilders crowd from approaching parliament.
He expressed scorn for Wilders, calling his movie "racist tripe".
Britain's interior ministry originally barred Wilders' entry into the country in February 2009 as a potential threat to public security.
Defying the ban, Wilders flew into London's Heathrow airport, only to be turned back, prompting a minor spat between Britain and the Netherlands.
He later successfully challenged the ban in a British court and visited the country in October last year.
Wilders has denounced the Quran as an "evil book" and a fascist work that should be outlawed, just as Hitler's manifesto Mein Kampf cannot be sold in the Netherlands.
He has urged the halting of immigration from Muslim countries, and says Muslims already living in the Netherlands must accept its law, its culture and its way of life - or they should leave.
Wilders' language against Islam has brought charges against him in the Netherlands for "hate speech," a little-enforced crime, subject to a maximum one-year jail sentence and fine.
|Wilders says his remarks are protected by freedom of speech [AFP]
He appealed to have the case dismissed, saying his remarks were not against Muslims but rather against Islam, and were protected by freedom of speech.
Last month, the court ruled against the objection, but is yet to set a trial date.
Wilders has been under permanent police protection since his life was threatened in 2004 by a Muslim radical.
He describes himself as a libertarian and rejects comparisons with right-wing European politicians such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.
Wilders began his political career as a speech writer, town councilman and member of parliament for the centrist pro-business Liberal Party, but left in 2004 over its readiness to accept Turkey into the European Union.
His new party won nine seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament in 2006, and polls predict he may more than triple that number in the June election.