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Dutch police sent in force to curb rioting and looting

Officers report little action after three nights of violence followed coronavirus curfew

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on the Groene Hilledijk in Rotterdam. AFP
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on the Groene Hilledijk in Rotterdam. AFP

Police took to the streets of Dutch towns and cities in force on Tuesday night to try to prevent violent rioting that shook the country for three nights after a nationwide curfew was introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Police in Rotterdam said they arrested 17 people for minor offences before the nightly curfew took effect at 9pm.

Riot police were stationed in the south and west of the city, but did not immediately report any major disturbances, local broadcaster Rijnmond reported.

In Amsterdam, riot police were sent to a commercial street where a large group of youths had gathered and set off fireworks, but there were no violent confrontations.

The rioting, which started with the burning of a coronavirus testing centre in a fishing village on Saturday night, is the worst to hit the Netherlands in years.

It was initially sparked by anger over a tough coronavirus lockdown that has been in force since mid-December.

But calls for rioting on social media, mainly spread among young people, increasingly fuelled the unrest.

Schools have been closed in the country since the Christmas holidays.

Police said on Tuesday afternoon that video images showed many rioters were young teenagers and that many of the people they arrested were picked up close to their homes.

“I join others in appealing to parents to keep their children at home. Certainly after 9pm, stay indoors,” said North Holland regional Police Chief Anja Schouten.

The violence has stretched the police and led at times to sending in military police.

On Monday night, rioters pelted police with rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, and looted shops in at least two cities, Rotterdam and Den Bosch.

A total of 184 people were arrested in Monday night’s unrest.

Police fined more than 1,700 for breaching the 9pm to 4:30am curfew, which carries a fine of €95 ($115).

Officers around the country also detained dozens suspected of inciting rioting through social media.

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said earlier Tuesday that riots would quickly be brought before the courts and face possible prison terms if convicted.

“They won’t get away with it,” Mr Grapperhaus said in The Hague.

“If you rob people who are struggling, with the help of the government, to keep their head above water, it’s totally scandalous."

He said the curfew was necessary in the fight against the coronavirus.

Populist right-wing opposition politician Geert Wilders called for the army to be used to quell rioting, something the government has so far ruled out.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb posted a video message on Twitter, asking rioters: “Does it feel good to wake up with a bag full of stolen stuff next to you?”

Mr Aboutaleb appealed to parents of the young rioters, asking: “Did you miss your son yesterday? Did you ask yourself where he was?”

The municipality in Den Bosch designated large parts of the city as risk areas for Tuesday night, fearing a repeat of the violence.

Residents took to the streets Tuesday to help with the clean-up, and the city’s mayor said he would investigate authorities’ response to the rioting.

“This criminal violence must stop,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted. “The riots have nothing to do with protesting or struggling for freedom.

“We must win the battle against the virus together, because that’s the only way of getting back our freedom.”

The rate of new infections in Netherlands has been decreasing in recent weeks.

But the country’s public health institute warned on Tuesday that the new variant of the virus first detected in Britain is gaining ground and was probably responsible for more than a third of infections over the last week.

The country has registered more than 13,650 confirmed Covid-19 deaths.

Updated: January 27, 2021 04:06 AM

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