Netherlands rocked by third night of rioting over COVID curfew

Police in the Netherlands arrested at least 150 people after rioting broke out for a third night following weekend protests triggered by anger over a coronavirus lockdown and nighttime curfew.

Riot police clashed with groups of protesters and used water cannon against looters on Monday in the port city of Rotterdam, where the mayor issued a decree broadening police powers of arrest.

Rioters smashed windows and looted stores. They demolished bus stops, lit fires and attacked police with fireworks and stones. Journalists and camera crews were also victims of the violence.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb called the mob “shameless thieves”.

Tear gas was used to disperse crowds in Haarlem as the unrest spread to smaller towns and cities including Amersfoort in the east, Geleen in the south, and The Hague.

In Brabant and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, rioters tried to get into hospitals, local media reported. Police cordoned off the entrances and ambulances had to be diverted to other clinics.

Police Chief Willem Woelders said on Twitter officers were dealing with “rioting youths who are throwing fireworks”.

Earlier Prime Minister Mark Rutte condemned what he called the “criminal violence” of the previous night, which police officials described as the “worst rioting in 40 years”.

The curfew, the first in the Netherlands since World War II, was imposed after the National Institute for Health (RIVM) warned of a new wave of cases due to the “British variant” of COVID-19, although numbers of new infections in the Netherlands have been declining for weeks.

Some 4,129 new cases were reported on Monday, the lowest number since December 1.

Violators of the 9pm (20:00 GMT) to 4:30am (03:30 GMT) curfew, which will remain in force until at least February 10, face a 95 euro ($115) fine.

There are a number of exemptions including for people who have to work, attend funerals or walk their dogs, providing they present a certificate.

The Netherlands was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.

Images posted on social media on Monday showed rioters looting a shop in Den Bosch and a press photographer being hit in the head in Haarlem, after an angry mob chased him off and threw a brick at him.

Police Union chief Koen Simmers on Monday told public broadcaster NOS that police were prepared should the rioting continue.

“I hope it was a one-off, but I’m afraid it could be a harbinger for the days and weeks to come,” Simmers said.

Some right-wing politicians, including Geert Wilders, have called on the government to send in the army to quell the riots. However, there is no indication that Rutte’s cabinet is considering a military deployment.

 

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