Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders has been hit by another prominent resignation from his party after leading an anti-Moroccan chant at an election rally.
The incident, in which Wilders said he would arrange for fewer Moroccans to live in the Netherlands, has caused a crisis for his Party for Freedom (PVV), which had been ahead in opinion polls.
In his first public reaction to the crisis, Wilders refused to take back his words. At a news conference on Saturday, Wilders said that he had spoken the “truth” and he blamed the media for stretching his words.
"I have said nothing wrong ... I didn't say I want to throw all Moroccans out of the country. I will not apologise for something I didn't say," Wilders said.
"I will continue … there is no other party that keeps addressing these issues and I will continue doing so."
Wilders led the anti-Moroccan chant at a rally after municipal elections last week, asking supporters in The Hague: "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?"
The crowd chanted: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!", to which Wilders responded: "We'll take care of that."
The comments provoked wide-spread condemnation in the Netherlands and abroad.
Laurence Stassen, who heads the PVV in the European Parliament, announced her resignation late on Friday in a statement circulated by Dutch news agency ANP.
Thousands of complaints
Thousands of people filed complaints of discrimination with Dutch prosecutors, while several PVV members have quit the national assembly and city councils.
The most recent opinion poll, published before the furore, indicated the PVV would be the single largest party in the Dutch parliament if national elections were held now.
"I deeply regret having to take this decision, but staying in my function was not an option after these comments," Stassen said in a statement.
"I immediately resign as head of the party in the European Parliament."
Wilders climbed to political prominence in a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands, but his latest comments have been widely rejected, including by his own supporters.
Political commentator Tom-Jan Meeus wrote in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on Saturday that Wilders' political future had come under threat.
"He has lost his closest allies, his best member of parliament and his European assembly member," he wrote.
"In two months there will be European elections and it's going to be tough campaigning for him."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies