Dutch government says won't bow to curfew riot 'scum'

The riots have spread since the curfew came into effect on Saturday
The riots have spread since the curfew came into effect on Saturday Marco de Swart ANP/AFP
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The Hague (AFP)

The Dutch government will not back down on its coronavirus curfew despite three nights of rioting by "scum", ministers said on Tuesday after the worst unrest to hit the Netherlands for four decades.

Dutch police arrested a further 184 people overnight, taking past 400 the number detained after the Netherlands imposed its first nationwide curfew since World War II.

At least 10 police officers were also injured in the latest clashes on Monday night, which left a trail of looted shops and burned cars in cities including Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Den Bosch.

Several cities granted police extra powers amid reports that fresh protests were being organised on social media for Tuesday night against the 9:00pm to 4:30am curfew.

"You don't capitulate to people who smash shop windows," Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra told ANP national news agency.

"Scum does this," and not genuine protesters, he added.

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus also said the government would keep the curfew in place. It is meant to last until at least until February 9 in what the government says is a vital step to bring down Covid-19 cases.

Police unions called it the worst rioting in four decades, referring to clashes with squatters in the 1980s as they were evicted from illegally-occupied buildings.

Dutch police chief Henk van Essen condemned the violence, saying "it has nothing to do any longer with the right to demonstrate".

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter that "Criminal violence has to stop."

- 'Shameless thieves' -

The government announced the curfew last week and it was supported by a majority of MPs.

Exemptions are allowed, for example for people having to work, attend funerals or walk their dogs, on condition that they present a certificate.

The protests began on a small scale on Saturday night, with a single riot in the northern village of Urk in the conservative protestant "Bible Belt".

But on Sunday they spread, with police using water cannon, tear gas and horses against rioters in the southern city of Eindhoven and in Amsterdam.

Police used water cannon again in Rotterdam on Monday night

As the clean-up operation started, mayors of several cities reacted with anger. Rotterdam's Ahmed Aboutaleb called rioters "shameless thieves," the NOS national broadcaster reported.

"Does it feel good to wake up this morning with a suitcase full of stolen goods next to you?" he asked rioters in an online message.

The country was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.

More than 13,600 people have died in the Netherlands since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

- 'Genie out of bottle' -

Dutch media have said that the protesters are a mixture of hardcore anti-lockdown activists along with other, largely young people frustrated with the increasingly tough measures in a country that until recently had some of Europe's laxest Covid rules.

In some cities, hardcore football club supporters such as those from FC Den Bosch formed groups to defend stadiums and hospitals from looters. Experts warned however that such actions could inflame an already tense situation.

"Right now, the genie is out of the bottle," Carsten de Dreu, a social psychology professor at Leiden University told AFP.

He said the government may have foreseen that tougher measures like closing clubs, shops and introducing a curfew could lead to riots.

"We knew that in advance and we saw it coming," he said.

"Perhaps one should have been thinking months ago that we should not only have a lockdown, but also about making a point about giving back some of the social functions that have now been taken away."

"We take this very seriously because we are close to the Dutch border," Paul Van Miert, the mayor of the Belgian town of Turnhout, told broadcaster VRT.