Dutch vote in droves in "bizarre" election

AMSTERDAM, May 15 (Reuters) - The Dutch turned out in droves on Wednesday to vote in a general election, with the opposition Christian Democrats and the party of murdered anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn set to rout the centre-left government.

Voting across the country was brisk despite a brief suspension of campaigning after of the murder last week of Fortuyn, a controversial, gay political maverick who had captured the imagination of growing numbers of Dutch voters.

The top-selling daily De Telegraaf said massive turnout was expected in what it described as "one of the most bizarre and unpredictable elections our country has seen."

Fortuyn, 54, was shot dead on May 6 as he emerged from a radio station near Amsterdam. An animal rights activist has been charged with the killing which stunned the nation and provoked an unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger.

Fortuyn’s party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), was formed only three months ago.a

"A lot of people are voting because of Fortuyn, but I hope not too many people will vote emotionally," Juliette Van der Drift, an Amsterdam Web site designer, said after voting in the centre of the cosmopolitan capital.

The expected demise of Prime Minister Wim Kok’s left-leaning coalition after eight years in office would be the latest in a string of defeats for Europe’s left that began in Italy last year and has spread to France, Denmark and Portugal.

Fortuyn, whose attacks on Islam and opposition to immigration raised eyebrows in a country with a sizeable Muslim and immigrant community, rejected comparisons with prominent European far-right leaders like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen and Austria’s Joerg Haider.

His party of untried political novices has accused mainstream parties of inciting hatred of the former sociology professor by demonising him as a right-wing extremist and is expected to win a sizeable sympathy vote.