Anti-WIlders ad appears in Saudi newspapers

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Dutch employers' organization VNO-NCW placed an anti-Wilders advertisement in diverse newspapers in Saudi Arabia today and yesterday. Among others, the papers Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Riyadh and Al-Yaum, ran an ad in which the organization takes distance form the anti-Islam sticker campaign of Geert Wilders, on behalf of Dutch entrepreneurs.  The sticker campaign that PVV-leader Geert Wilders launched towards the end of last year use the design of the Saudi Arabian flag, but replaces the Islamic creed with the words: "Islam is a lie. Mohammed is a criminal. The Qur'an is poison." It caused outrage among Saudi authorities and word of trade sanctions. Insulting Islam is a crime in Saudi Arabia. The employers' organization states in the ad that Dutch companies strongly disapprove of the "highly provocative and gravely insulting actions." VNO-NCW emphasizes that they, on behalf of the business community, condemn and highly regret the actions, and details further the history of trade relations between the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. According to the Volkskrant, a spokesperson fort VNO-NCW states that Wilders "squanders" the commercial interests of the Netherlands. "VNO-NCW placed this advertisement because we have had more than enough of the provocative actions of Wilders. We have said that for years, and the Saudis can also hear that", the spokesman tells the Volkskrant. "With this, we stand up for the commercial interests of Dutch entrepreneurs, who are in danger because of these kinds of actions from Wilders. Wilders must be aware that it is about jobs and tax money that flows to the treasury" the spokesman adds. Over the past few weeks, minister Frans Timmermans of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister Mark Rutte have publicly taken distance from Wilders' sticker action, acknowledging the threat of the sanctions, and the devastating effect these could have on trade relations. Millions of Dutch export companies are at stake, with ongoing as well as future contracts in danger. The Netherlands exported goods worth €2.2 billion to Saudi Arabia in 2012. Companies such as Shell, Friesland Campina and dredging company Boskalis have invested millions into the country. Minister Timmermans has announced plans to depart for the Arab state "shortly" to try and smooth over relations. "If you reach people in their soul, because they feel it that way, by making their prophet ridiculous and abusing their national symbols, then discussions are necessary", Timmermans says. Diplomat Wim Geerts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has traveled to Saudi Arabia to try and calm the situation in Riyadh, but this has failed. According to the Volkskrant, however, both countries have agreed that they do not want to let the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia be held hostage by Wilders' action, and that they do want to move forward. There has not yet been an official statement from Saudi authorities that a trade sanction is in the future, this is still merely a rumor. Despite this, there has been frantic action in the diplomatic mill in The Hague and Riyadh to prevent rumor from turning into fact. According to the Volkskrant, minister Timmermans is receiving calls that contracts are no longer being given out to Dutch companies, and that cooperation with Saudis is no longer working. The scale of the financial ramifications is not yet clear. Wilders spokespeople have said that thousands of stickers have now been spread out. According to them, the reaction of Saudi Arabia is a "frontal attack on our freedom of expression", and that the Netherlands should not allow itself to be gagged by "a barbaric country that can't even spell the words human rights." VNO-NCW counters that Wilders' action is backwards. "Wilders could support the Cabinet in its human rights policy. Instead, he brandishes insulting actions that will not improve human rights anywhere."

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