AMSTERDAM (AP) — Dutch Queen Beatrix took on the fiery leader of her country's anti-Muslim party on Thursday by dismissing as "nonsense" his criticism of her decision to wear a head scarf during a recent visit to a mosque.
The queen made her unusually forthright comment to Dutch reporters covering her state visit this week to the United Arab Emirates and Oman, National broadcaster NOS reported.
Her comments were not recorded, but Beatrix told reporters she wore the head scarf in the UAE on Sunday, and again on a visit to an Oman mosque Thursday, to show religious respect.
The popular monarch was responding to questions from reporters about parliamentary questions filed by anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who called the monarch's decision to cover her head on a visit to a mosque in Abu Dhabi on Sunday "a sad exhibition" that "legitimizes the oppression of women."
It is rare for the queen to respond so directly — and dismissively — to criticism from a political party in this nation where the unelected head of state's role is largely ceremonial.
Wilders is a staunch opponent of Islamic head scarves and head-to-toe burqa robes for women. He is not alone in the Netherlands, where the government has announced plans to ban burqas.
Muslims, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, represent about 1 million of the 16.7 million Dutch population.
Wilders also has begun voicing criticism of Beatrix, who was crowned in 1980. After the queen spoke about the environment and living sustainably in her televised Christmas speech, Wilders tweeted: "Heavens, has her majesty secretly joined (political party) Green Left?"
Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday sprang to the queen's defense.
"When Her Majesty visits a house of worship, the dress requirements are respected," Rutte said in written answers to Wilders' parliamentary questions.
Wilders rose to prominence amid a wave of anti-Islam sentiment that swept over the Netherlands in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States and the murder by a Muslim radical of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004.
His Freedom Party is now one of the country's largest political groups and he is a vital supporter of Rutte's minority ruling coalition. While Wilders is not a member of the government, his party has agreed to support Rutte's administration on key votes in exchange for pledges on policies such as a crack down on immigration.