May 9, 2002 Posted: 1805 GMT

Thousands more are expected to attend Fortuyn's funeral on Friday    

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- Thousands of people, many wiping away tears, have filed past the coffin of murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn at an almost unprecedented "lying-in-state."

The ceremony, requested by Fortuyn's family, was held in the 16th-century Laurens Church in Fortuyn's home city of Rotterdam, not far from his plush villa in the port city.

The public viewing came before a funeral service to be held on Friday.

The lying-in-state is virtually unheard of in the Netherlands, even for its most prominent political leaders. The last such occasion was in 1962, when Queen Wilhelmina, the grandmother of the current monarch, died.

The 54-year-old maverick, who had been expected to win about 17 percent of the vote for his new party in a general election next Wednesday, was shot outside a radio station near Amsterdam on Monday. Animal rights campaigner Volkert van der Graaf, 32, has been charged with his murder.

Dressed in a typical dapper dark suit, yellow tie and white shirt, Fortuyn's body was displayed in an open white coffin. The gunshot wounds to his head, neck and back were not visible.

"Pim, we're proud of you," read a card from Fortuyn's family, atop a wreath of red roses near the coffin.

Mourners laid bouquets of flowers around the coffin. Many women left the church sobbing.

"I am crying because of the injustice to Pim Fortuyn and his ideals that have been so distorted by the media and politicians," Angelika Lopez, a 50-year-old receptionist, told Reuters.

"I am sure he did not die in vain," she said. "Something has to change otherwise the far-right will step in and this whole country will go down the drain."

Olaf Tutts, a pensioner, said he was a recent convert to Fortuyn's message. "They really looked after him. You couldn't see the wounds. It is a dignified goodbye," he told Reuters. "Pim made me turn around. He really was a voice of the people."

Hundreds of people from all walks of life stood in line from the early hours to wait for the cathedral to open. Most mourners were white, but some black Dutch citizens also queued.

Fortuyn had upset much of the country's large immigrant population with calls to close the borders and raised hackles by calling Islam "backward."

That did not stop 31-year-old Fauwsja, a Dutch Muslim from Rotterdam, from wanting to pay her respects.

"It is really very sad what happened," she told Reuters as she waited outside the cathedral. "Even though we are Muslims, we agreed with some of the ideas he stood for."

Meanwhile a Hindu group said Thursday that some 80 Hindu organisations in the country had received letters this week threatening death and rape if they did not stop supporting Fortuyn, although they deny taking any stand over the populist.

Van der Graaf is seen during a 1998 environmental group meeting    
Many Rotterdam citizens showed mixed emotions on Thursday, torn between mourning for Fortuyn and celebrating the previous night's UEFA Cup final victory of local soccer club Feyenoord over Germany's Borussia Dortmund. (UEFA match coverage)

Although clashes between police and young Fortuyn supporters that erupted after his killing on Monday did not recur, groups of Dutch soccer fans fought with riot police early on Thursday in the city centre of Rotterdam.(Full story)

Queen Beatrix sent a telegram to Fortuyn's family earlier in the week, it transpired on Thursday.

"The Queen, who was in contact with the prime minister shortly after the shooting, let it be known that same evening that she was appalled and deeply shocked," the royal family's information service said on its Web site.

Political analysts say party might now trounce the established parties in the general election, even though most of its candidates are political novices.(Full story)

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Fortuyn's party would want the election to go ahead as soon as possible to take advantage of an expected sympathy vote, but he questioned how long the party would survive without Fortuyn.

After Friday's church ceremony, Fortuyn's coffin will be taken to his family grave at an undisclosed location in the Netherlands, but that burial is expected to be temporary.

Vegan animal rights campaigner Volkert van der Graaf, 32, was remanded in custody for 10 days, charged with Fortuyn's murder, at a brief court hearing in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Police have not established a motive for the crime, and there is no obvious link between the suspect's activism and the shooting of Fortuyn, who was praised by environmental groups for his policies.