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Violence Escalates in the Netherlands in the Wake of Van Gogh's Murder


A 15-hour stand-off between police and suspected terrorists ended in The Hague Wednesday evening with two arrests of people police say belonged to a "network of radical Muslims." Five other suspects were arrested across the country on the same day in an ongoing terrorism operation since last week's murder of the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

The latest violence was in the Dutch city, The Hague, where four police officers were wounded as suspects in a house they were raiding threw a hand grenade at them. Air space over the city was closed Wednesday and gunfire was exchanged, as hundreds of police and soldiers converged on a working-class neighborhood where half the population is immigrant.

In an unusually dramatic scene, police evacuated the neighborhood and snipers took up rooftop positions. Police called the raid terrorist-related, but they won't say if it is connected to the murder of controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh. He was shot and stabbed last week by a suspected Islamic extremist, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, who remains in custody on charges of murder and terrorism. He will be brought before a judge Friday for a closed custody hearing.

There have been more than a dozen arson attacks - both against Islamic intuitions and a couple of churches - since Mr. van Gogh's assassination. The continuing spiral of violence and counter-violence has led to government in-fighting and public tension as authorities try to isolate Islamic extremists and moderate Muslims rally for unity.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told Parliament Wednesday that the country can't let itself be blinded by people seeking to drag it into a spiral of violence.

The prime minister appealed for an end to what he called this "un-Dutch" violence.

One opinion poll shows that some 40 percent of Dutch people say Muslims are no longer welcome in the Netherlands, while 90 percent say the Dutch are becoming less tolerant.

Meanwhile, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has met with Muslim groups issuing a joint statement condemning extremism on all sides. She says Mr. van Gogh's murder raises doubts about whether the Netherlands has been too lax, and she is looking into tougher measures concerning immigrants.

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