Rioters set fires in the center of the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven and pelted police with rocks Sunday at a banned demonstration against coronavirus lockdown measures, while officers responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Police in the capital of Amsterdam also used a water cannon to disperse an outlawed anti-lockdown demonstration on a major square ringed by museums. Video showed police spraying people grouped against a wall of the Van Gogh Museum.
It was the worst violence to hit the Netherlands since the pandemic began and the second straight Sunday that police clashed with protesters in Amsterdam. The country has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December that is due to continue at least until Feb. 9. The government beefed up the lockdown with a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew that went into force on Saturday.
Politicians and local leaders on Monday condemned the violence.
“It is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. “This has nothing to do with protesting, this is criminal violence and that’s how we’ll treat it.”
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“This has nothing to do with demonstrating against corona measures,” Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said in a statement. “This is simply criminal behavior; people who deliberately target police, riot police, journalists, and other aid workers.”
Worst hit was Eindhoven, 78 miles south of Amsterdam, where police clashed with hundreds of rioters who torched a car, threw rocks and fireworks at officers, smashed windows, and looted a supermarket at the southern city’s railway station. The crowd of hundreds of demonstrators also was believed to include supporters of the anti-immigrant group PEGIDA, which had sought to demonstrate in the city.
Police in Eindhoven said Monday they have so far detained 62 suspects and have launched a large-scale investigation to identify and arrest more. One woman who was not involved in the rioting in Eindhoven was injured by a police horse. Trains to and from the station were halted and local media reported plundering at the station.
“My city is crying, and so am I,” Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma told media Sunday night. In an emotional impromptu press conference, he called the rioters “the scum of the earth” and added, “I am afraid that if we continue down this path, we’re on our way to civil war.”
Local residents went to the scene of the rioting Monday morning to help in the cleanup operation.
The rioting coincided with the first weekend of the new national coronavirus curfew, but mayors said that the violence was not the work of citizens concerned about their civil liberties.
“These demonstrations are being hijacked by people who only want one thing and that is to riot,” Hubert Bruls, mayor of the city of Nijmegen and leader of a group of local security organizations, told news talk show Op1 on Sunday night.
Amsterdam police arrested 190 people amid rioting at a banned demonstration Sunday.
Local media reported unrest in other Dutch towns Sunday night caused by people protesting against the curfew.
The violence came a day after anti-curfew rioters torched a coronavirus testing facility in the Dutch fishing village of Urk.
Video from Urk, 50 miles northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbor before it was set ablaze Saturday night.
The lockdown was imposed by the Dutch government to rein in the spread of the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus.
Police said they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.
The police and municipal officials issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.”
“This is not only unacceptable, but also a slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test center to help people from Urk,” the local authorities said, adding that the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.
On Sunday, all that remained of the portable testing building was a burned-out shell.
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