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Fresh Covid riots for second night hit Dutch city

Fresh Covid riots for second night hit Dutch city

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Fresh rioting broke out late Saturday over the Dutch government's coronavirus measures, with rioters throwing stones and fireworks at police, and setting fire to bicycles as protests turned violent for a second night in the Netherlands.

Officers in riot gear charged groups of protesters in The Hague, while a water cannon was used to put out a fire at a busy intersection. Police patrolled on horseback and on bicycles.

Police arrested several people in a working class neighbourhood of the city after a day of protests elsewhere in the country which were mainly peaceful, AFP correspondents saw.

'People are angry'

But the atmosphere changed late on Saturday, with groups of youths pelting officers in The Hague and also in the central town of Urk, as well as cities in the southern Limburg province, the NOS public broadcaster said.

"These people out here are protesting about 2G (restrictions on the unvaccinated) and the lockdown," Hague pizza shop owner Ferdi Yilmaz told AFP as he surveyed the damage to his shop.

"They are angry about it," said Yilmaz, who added police dragged people out of his shop and "hit me on the head for no reason."

On Friday night, at least two people were injured after police fired shots at protesters and 51 were arrested after an "orgy" of violence in Rotterdam.

The Netherlands went back into Western Europe's first partial lockdown of the winter last Saturday with at least three weeks of curbs, and is now planning to ban unvaccinated people from entering some venues, the so-called 2G option.

Earlier several thousand protesters angry at the latest measures gathered in Amsterdam on Saturday, despite one group earlier in the day having cancelled their rally because of the previous night's violence.

Another thousand marched through the southern city of Breda near the Belgian border, carrying banners with slogans such as "No Lockdown".

Organisers said they opposed Prime Minister Mark Rutte's plans to exclude the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants.

"People want to live, that's why we're here," said organiser Joost Eras.

But "we're not rioters. We come in peace," he said.

Around him the mood was festive, with some protesters dancing behind floats carrying DJs, dubbed "party buses". 

The latest demonstrations followed the Rotterdam unrest in which police said they had fired both warning and targeted shots and used water cannon.

"Fifty-one people were arrested during the major disturbances on Friday evening and night on Coolsingel (street) in Rotterdam. About half of them were just underage," Rotterdam police said in a tweet.

The rioters came from different parts of the country, they said. Police were still searching for more suspects.

'All hell broke loose'

"Three rioters were injured when they were hit by a bullet. They are still in the hospital," the police said, adding that the Dutch national criminal investigation department would probe "whether the injuries were caused by police bullets".

A policeman was also taken to hospital with leg injuries while several other officers were hurt or suffered hearing damage because of large fireworks set off by the rioters, police said.

Police had said earlier they had fired several warning shots but that "at one point the situation became so dangerous that officers felt compelled to shoot at targets".

They dismissed rumours on social media that someone had died during the violence in Rotterdam. 

Rotterdam's mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb denounced what he called an "orgy of violence", adding: "The police felt the need to draw a police weapon in the end to defend themselves."

A group that had called an Amsterdam protest for Saturday, United We Stand Europe, earlier in the day said on Facebook it had cancelled the rally because "last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam".

The Dutch government also condemned the violence in Rotterdam.

"The riots and extreme violence against police, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are horrifying," said Security Minister Ferd Grapperhaus.

"The police and the public prosecutor's office are doing their utmost to track down, prosecute and punish these rioters."