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Covid restrictions lead to third night of rioting in Netherlands

Roaming groups set fires, threw rocks and looted stores in violence triggered by a night curfew aimed at curbing the coronavirus.
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AMSTERDAM — Dutch police detained more than 150 people in a third night of unrest in cities across the Netherlands, where roaming groups of rioters set fires, threw rocks and looted stores in violence triggered by a night curfew aimed at curbing the coronavirus.

The nation's first curfew since World War II followed a warning by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) over a new wave of infections due to the "British variant" of the virus, and was imposed despite weeks of declines in new infections.

Ten police were injured in the port city of Rotterdam, where 60 rioters were detained overnight, Dutch news agency ANP said on Tuesday.

Two photographers were hurt after being targeted by rock-throwing gangs, one in the capital, Amsterdam, and another in the nearby town of Haarlem, broadcaster NH Nieuws said.

Image: Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on the Groene Hilledijk in Rotterdam,
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on the Groene Hilledijk in Rotterdam, on Jan. 25, after a second wave of riots in the Netherlands following the introduction of a coronavirus curfew over the weekend.Marco De Swart / AFP - Getty Images

In the capital's east, at least nine people were held after clashes with riot police. Store windows were smashed and an angry group attacked a police van, witnesses said.

The unrest in towns and cities across the Netherlands initially grew out of calls to protest against the country's tough lockdown, but degenerated into vandalism by crowds whipped up by messages swirling on social media.

Schools and non-essential shops have been shut since mid-December, after bars and restaurants were closed two months prior.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same things as last night,” police chief Willem Woelders told Dutch current affairs show Nieuwsuur. He said around 70 rioters had been arrested and police had used tear gas in the western city of Haarlem as well as Rotterdam.

Rotterdam police said youths took to the streets “seeking a confrontation with police.” Riot officers attempted to break up the violence and made a number of arrests, before firing tear gas. Police warned people to stay away from the area. National broadcaster NOS showed video of police using a water cannon and reported that some shops had been looted.

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Police in the southern city of Den Bosch said that a shop was looted there and riot police were attempting to restore order.

By late Monday night, police in Rotterdam were left sweeping up shattered glass littering the street next to a vandalized bus stop. The force tweeted that “calm is slowly returning, but the atmosphere is still grim.”

In the southern town of Geleen, police tweeted that youths in the downtown area were throwing fireworks. Riot police charged at protesters in The Hague.

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 detained people on suspicion of using social media to call for rioting.

“It is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said earlier Monday of rioting Sunday. “This has nothing to do with protesting, this is criminal violence and that's how we'll treat it.”

Worst hit 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 news 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."

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

The death toll in the Netherlands stands at 13,579, with 952,950 infections to date.