Dutch police fire shots as COVID protests rock Rotterdam

Dozens arrested and seven injured after protests against partial lockdown turn violent.

Police said the protests descended into rioting with dozens of people arrested and seven people injured [Killian Lindenburg/EPA}

Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in downtown Rotterdam at a demonstration against recently introduced COVID-19 restrictions and government plans to restrict access for unvaccinated people to some venues.

The Dutch city’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that “on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves” as rioters ran rampage through the port city’s central shopping district, setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers in what Aboutaleb called “an orgy of violence”.

“[The police] shot at protesters, people were injured,” Aboutaleb said. He did not have details on the injuries. Police also fired warning shots.

A number of police officers also were injured in the violence and officers arrested dozens of people and expect to arrest more after studying video footage from security cameras, Aboutaleb said.

The situation had largely calmed down later on Friday night, but there was a heavy police presence.

It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the Netherlands since coronavirus restrictions were first imposed last year. In January, rioters also attacked police and set fires on the streets of Rotterdam after a curfew came into force.

The Netherlands went back into western Europe’s first partial lockdown of the winter season a week ago. The restrictions, which affect restaurants, shops and sport, are expected to remain in force for at least three weeks.

Police said in a statement that the demonstration that started on the Coolsingel street had “resulted in riots. Fires have been set in several places. Fireworks were set off and police fired several warning shots”.

“There are injuries related to the fired shots,” they added. They did not give a number but Dutch public broadcaster NOS said two people were hurt.

Dutch media said several hundred protesters shouted slogans including “freedom”, then threw stones at police and firefighters and set fire to several electric scooters. Police used water cannon to try to disperse the crowd.

Photos from the scene showed at least one police car in flames and another with a bicycle slammed through its windshield.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against a partial coronavirus lockdown and a government plan to curb the movements of people who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 [Killian Lindenburg/AFP]

Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet.

“The centre of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone,” it said. “Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never the solution.”

Dutch police said units from around the country were brought in to “restore order” to the city.

Rotterdam authorities issued an emergency order banning people from gathering in the area “to maintain public order”, while its main railway station was closed.

A demonstration planned for Saturday in Amsterdam against coronavirus curbs was cancelled after the riots in Rotterdam.

“Last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam,”  United We Stand Europe, which had called Saturday’s protest, said on Facebook. Keeping the demonstration in Amsterdam “didn’t feel right”, it said.

A planned protest in the southern city of Breda on Saturday is still on, according to local media.

The Netherlands is trying to control a new wave of the coronavirus, with more than 21,000 new cases reported on Friday

The government is now considering excluding the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants, allowing access only to those who have been fully vaccinated or who have recovered from the disease.

Similar steps have already been taken in neighbouring Germany. Austria has moved into a full lockdown and plans to make vaccines mandatory.

Source: News Agencies