On Sunday, at least seven people were injured when police opened fire on protestors in downtown Rotterdam at a demonstration against recently introduced COVID-19 curbs and government plans to limit access for unvaccinated people to some venues.
Videos shared on social media showed police using batons to try to disperse angry protesters, who were setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at police officers.
Dutch city’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb called it “an orgy of violence”, saying the police have “felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves” on several occasions, blaming the protesters for rampaging through the port city’s central shopping district.
It is one of the worst spells of violence in the northwestern European country since pandemic restrictions were first imposed last year.
Netherlands switched back to partial lockdown of the winter season last week. The restrictions, which affect restaurants, shops and sports events, are expected to remain in force for at least three weeks.
In the last three days, police have arrested more than 100 people around the country. At least 12 people have also been injured during the anti-restrictions rallies.
In a statement, the police said demonstrations had “resulted in riots” and “fires have been set in several places. Fireworks were set off and police fired several warning shots”.
Although, a Groningen police spokeswoman was quoted as saying by the AFP that the riot police were “present in the center to restore order”.
Police ordered an emergency in the northern cities of Groningen and Leeuwarden, as well as in Enschede to the east and Tilburg to the south, to keep people away from streets.
Dutch media said several hundred protesters shouted slogans including “freedom”.
Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet, saying “the centre of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone.”
“Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never the solution,” it said.
Het centrum van onze mooie stad is vanavond veranderd in een waar oorlogsgebied. Rotterdam is een stad waar wij het oneens mogen zijn over zaken die spelen, maar geweld is nooit, maar dan ook nooit, de oplossing. Leefbaar Rotterdam veroordeelt met kracht dit ongekende geweld! pic.twitter.com/YkXhy2UYTq— Leefbaar Rotterdam (@LeefbaarRdam) November 19, 2021
Netherlands is trying to contain a new wave of the coronavirus. Daily infections have alarmingly surged in the country with a population of 17.5 million, hitting record high in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, fresh wave of protests have also broken out in other European countries, including Belgium, Austria and France, as governments have again moved to tighten pandemic curbs.
Police and protesters on Sunday clashed in the Belgian capital Brussels, as well as in the French Caribbean territory Guadaloupe. There were also fresh demonstrations in Austria, where the government is imposing a new lockdown and COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that it is “very worried” about the spread of COVID-19 in Europe as the continent battles a fresh wave of infections.
WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, was quoted as saying by the BBC that 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken.
“COVID-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” he said, adding “we know what needs to be done” in order to fight the virus.