Dutch police take to streets to prevent more rioting

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Dutch police have clashed with protesters demonstrating against the country’s lockdown in the capital, Amsterdam and the southern city of Eindhoven. The unrest comes a day after rioting youths protesting on the first night of the country’s curfew torched a coronavirus testing facility in Dutch fishing village Urk. (Pro News via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch police took to the streets of towns and cities across the Netherlands on Monday night in an attempt to prevent a repeat of rioting the previous night that saw clashes linked to the country’s coronavirus curfew. Before the curfew came into force, two cities reported unrest.

Police in the port city of Rotterdam reported youths took to a street “seeking a confrontation with police.” Riot officers attempted to break up the violence and made a number of arrests, police tweeted. National broadcaster NOS reported that police used a water cannon. In the southern town of Geleen, police tweeted that youths in the downtown area were throwing fireworks.

Dutch media reported calls on social media for further violent protests even as the country struggles to contain new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Police in the southern town of Goes and the North Holland province said they people on suspicion of using social media to call for rioting.

“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.”

Worst hit during the rioting Sunday was the southern city of Eindhoven, where police clashed with hundreds of rioters who torched a car, threw rocks and fireworks at officers, smashed windows and looted a supermarket at its railway station.

“My city is crying, and so am I,” Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma told reporters Sunday night in an emotional impromptu press conference. Hee 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.”

Amsterdam police arrested 190 people amid rioting at a banned demonstration Sunday.

The rioting coincided with the first weekend of a new national coronavirus curfew from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., but mayors stressed 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.

Nijmegen was one of a number of towns and cities that issued emergency decrees giving police extra powers to keep people away from certain locations amid reports of possible riots there. At least one store in Nijmegen was shown on Dutch television being boarded up as a precaution.

Bruls, who chaired a meeting of security officials Monday, said despite the violence, he did not advocate further limiting demonstrations.

“You should be very reluctant to limit the right to demonstrate,” he said, noting that the rioting Sunday happened at protests that already had been banned by local authorities.

Police in Eindhoven said Monday they have detained 62 suspects and have launched a large-scale investigation to identify and arrest more. One woman not involved in the rioting in Eindhoven was injured by a police horse.

Local residents went to the scene of the rioting Monday morning to help in the clean-up operation.

In the eastern city of Enschede, rioters threw rocks at the windows of a hospital. On Saturday night, youths in the fishing village of Urk torched a coronavirus testing facility. Police in the southern province of Limburg said military police were sent as reinforcements to two cities.

“There is absolutely no excuse,” Overseas Development Minister Sigrid Kaag told Dutch television. “This is violence and I hope the police track down all these people and there are heavy punishments.”

The Netherlands has seen over 13,600 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic.

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