Dutch govt says rioters 'won't get away with it' after third night of unrest

A vehicle has been set on fire after a large group of young people has sought confrontation with the police on Beijerlandselaan in Rotterdam, on January 25, 2021.
A vehicle has been set on fire after a large group of young people has sought confrontation with the police on Beijerlandselaan in Rotterdam, on January 25, 2021. © MARCO DE SWART / ANP / AFP

Dutch police detained more than 180 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.

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Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said rioters would be quickly brought before courts by public prosecutors and face possible prison terms if convicted.

“They won't get away with it,” he told reporters 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.”

His comments came as the Netherlands faces its worst civil unrest in years, initially triggered by anger at the country's tough lockdown, but increasingly fuelled by calls for rioting swirling on social media.

The violence has stretched the police and led at times to the deployment of military police.

Riot police with shields and batons were called out in more than 10 cities, many of which had issued emergency ordnance to provide officers with greater powers to conduct searches.

"We have had riots in the past, but it's rare to have this for several nights across the entire country," said National Police spokeswoman Suzanne van de Graaf. "It's not only in known problem areas, but much more widespread."

Rioters 'will be dealt with harshly'

More than 470 people have been arrested during three days of unrest, with riot police deploying water cannon and officers on horseback to restore order in several places.

Police scuffled with rioters in several cities late into the night on Monday, chasing them down narrow streets with vans or on foot as helicopters hovered overhead.

In the capital Amsterdam, groups of youths threw fireworks, broke store windows and attacked a police truck, but were broken up by massive police presence.

Ten police were injured in Rotterdam, where 60 rioters were detained overnight after widespread looting and destruction in the city centre, a police spokeswoman said. Supermarkets in the port city were emptied, while rubbish bins and vehicles were set ablaze.

Gerrit van der Burg, the country's most senior public prosecutor, said in a statement Monday that authorities are “committed to tracking down and prosecuting people who committed crimes". He added: "Count on it that they will be dealt with harshly.”

The rate of new coronavirus infections in Netherlands has been decreasing in recent weeks, but the government is keeping up the tough lockdown, citing the slow pace of the decline and fears of new variants spreading quickly.

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

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

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