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Environmental Activist Charged with Shooting Death of Dutch Politican - 2002-05-08

Dutch prosecutors have charged a 32-year-old environmental activist with the murder of populist politician Pim Fortuyn. The suspect made his first court appearance in a closed Amsterdam courtroom, just two days after the shooting-death of the anti-immigrant politician shocked the nation.

Police have said they still do not have a motive, but they do have a suspect. He is identified as Volkert van der Graaf, who Wednesday was charged with murder and illegal possession of firearms in the shooting death of Pim Fortuyn.

Police said they believe Mr. van der Graaf acted alone. But because he has refused to make a statement - either to them or in court - police will not speculate on possible motives.

Mr. van der Graaf is known as a vegan animal rights activist who opposes factory farming. Police said there is still no link between his activism and the shooting. They also said a search of Mr. van der Graaf's home turned up ammunition that matched the caliber of the casings found near Mr. Fortuyn's body.

Mr. van der Graff was apprehended minutes after the shooting at a gasoline station near a radio station where Mr. Fortuyn had just given an interview. Colleagues and people who know the suspect describe him as calm, reserved, and non-violent, someone who used the courts in his fight against industrial animal farming.

In an extraordinary move, Mr. Fortuyn's body will lie in state in a Rotterdam church Thursday before his funeral there the following day. The last time the body of a public figure lay in state in the Netherlands was 40 years ago, when Dutch Queen Wilhelmina died.

Mr. Fortuyn's family requested the arrangements, and they seem to match with the former politician's flamboyant, un-Dutch ways. His body will be buried in Italy, where he had a vacation home.

The Dutch are still reeling from the murder, which many here see as their loss of innocence. Thousands of people took to the streets Tuesday night in a silent march through Mr. Fortuyn's home city of Rotterdam. Thousands more have been lining up at the town's city hall to sign condolence books and many have placed flowers in front of his house.

Two events will go on as scheduled, though, if slightly modified.

Wednesday night's European soccer cup final will feature Rotterdam's home team Feyenoord against a German team. Post-match activities have been cut back, and fans of the two teams will be separated and checked for alcohol.

The second event - next week's Dutch general elections will go ahead on May 15 as planned, but with no further campaigning and without the popular candidate whose name still heads his party's ballot list.