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Thousands march to commemorate death of Dutch linesman

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Thousands of Dutch mourners walked in silence with candles and flowers on Sunday to commemorate the fatal beating of a volunteer football linesman, whose death last week shocked the Netherlands.

Richard Nieuwenhuizen, 41, was attacked by a group of football players while refereeing an under-17 match. He died shortly after being kicked repeatedly by the youth players, who were 15 and 16 years old.

His death, which led to the arrest of four players, at least two of them of Moroccan origin, has sparked an national debate about violence on the football pitch.

The death was seized upon by the anti-Muslim party of populist Geert Wilders who blamed the death on what he called "not a football problem, but a Moroccan problem".

"On Sunday evening some 12,000 people, many of them youth football players whose own games were canceled, marched in silence, Dutch news agency ANP agency reported. Nieuwenhuizen's son was among them.

"We will miss you dad. Rest in peace," he told the crowd as he broke down in tears.

The group walked in rain through neighborhoods of Almere, a satellite city near Amsterdam, to the stadium where Niewenhuizen was attacked, laying flowers on the field.

In comments following his weekly cabinet meeting Friday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he disagreed.

"The core issue here is violence on the field. Unfortunately it happens far too often, whether the culprits have a Moroccan background or a Dutch background," he said.

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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