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East Europe protests Dutch anti-immigrant website

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(THE HAGUE) - Ten eastern European countries protested to the Dutch government Tuesday about an anti-immigrant website by a right-wing party, urging The Hague to reject what they branded a "deplorable initiative".

An open letter was signed by ambassadors and representatives from countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, piling pressure on Prime Minister Mark Rutte to take a stance on the "discriminatory" site.

Sent to party leaders in the Dutch parliament, the letter "expressed concern" over the website set up by the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) where readers can lodge complaints against eastern European migrants.

"Targeting a selected group of people living in the Netherlands is clearly discriminatory and degrading in its intents and purposes," said the letter, which was published on Dutch media websites on Tuesday.

"We invite Dutch society and its political leaders to distance themselves from this deplorable initiative."

The Freedom Party, whose anti-Islamist leader Geert Wilders was acquitted of hate speech last year, last week launched the site entitled "Report Middle and Eastern Europeans".

Respondents can tick "yes" or "no" when asked whether they have experienced "nuisances" such as loud noise, parking, drunkenness, squalor or the loss of jobs to migrant workers from eastern European countries.

The protest letter warned that the website threatened to tarnish the Netherlands' image as a tolerant country, where eastern European labour "contribute significantly to the growth of the Dutch economy".

Wilders said the site has had more than 32,000 hits since its launch.

But the European Commission said although the site was not breaking any laws, it "completely went against the principles" of freedom and the free movement of people in Europe.

"It's always easy to blame others, but blame doesnt often solve problems," its Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes wrote on her blog. "It's ridiculous to think that denouncing others on a website will make Netherlands or EU a better place."

The protest letter said the PVV website did not help the dialogue about the lives of an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 immigrant workers in the Netherlands.

"Rather it encourages negative perception of a particular group of EU citizens within the Dutch society -- a perception not supported by facts."

Hungary's ambassador to the Netherlands, Gyula Sumeghy, told AFP he hoped the letter would provoke a "strong condemnation" from political leaders.

"It would probably help to calm the situation if the Dutch government could be a bit more articulate in this respect," he said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal will meet the 10 ambassadors on Friday to discuss the letter, a foreign affairs official told AFP.

But Rutte, whose ruling coalition in the 150-seat lower house is dependent on support from the PVV's 24 lawmakers, has declined to condemn the site.

"The website is not of the Dutch government but of a political party," he told journalists on Monday. "It's not up to me to react to a website by a specific political party."

Dutch left-wing parties and Rutte's own ruling coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Action (CDA), have pressed him to condemn the site.

Wilders, a committed eurosceptic, on Monday told Dutch media the ambassadors' complaint was a "waste of time", claiming the website was not discriminatory but merely served to highlight issues regarding migrant labour.

The website says the input will be collated and presented to Dutch Social Affairs Minister Henk Kamp.

But the protest letter said: "For decades, the Netherlands and the Dutch society have been perceived in our countries as examples of freedom and tolerance.

"We believe the Netherlands should uphold this positive image."

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