By Katherine Seymour & Bethan Wild | Contributors
Riots have erupted in Rotterdam following the introduction of new COVID-19 rules and restrictions. Protests in the Dutch city turned violent, leading to a police response in which at least two people were shot.
Protesters were gathered to show their anger at fresh coronavirus restrictions being imposed across the Netherlands.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the introduction of a ‘partial lockdown’ in response to soaring infection rates and hospitalisations in the Netherlands. The announcement came not long after the government implemented a stricter COVID pass system. The pass now allows businesses to restrict access to those who are fully vaccinated or recovering from COVID-19, excluding those who test negative for the virus. Last week a three-week lockdown was imposed across the nation. On November 19, a further attempt to reduce infection rates was made as the Government cancelled the New Year’s Eve firework display for the second year in a row.
The Netherlands imposed fresh restrictions after recording its highest numbers of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The measures mean restaurants and shops will have to close earlier, and sports events must take place without spectators.
Another form of protest was football fans breaking into stadiums, following the banning of spectators at sports games. Two games were cancelled as a result.
Hundreds gathered at the protests, with some throwing rocks and fireworks at the police and setting cars alight. Social media has been swarmed with videos of protesters setting police cars alight across Europe.
At daytime protests during the initial announcement of the restrictions, police had to employ force using water cannons to try to regain control over the protesters. During the night seven people were injured and at least 20 arrested, a figure which later rose to 51, five officers were also said to be injured. The night was condemned by the Mayor of Rotterdam as an “orgy of violence”. Around half of those arrested have been reported to be under 18 years old.
The city was placed under a state of emergency, train stations were shut down and travel became restricted. According to the local political party, Leefbaar Rotterdam, the city centre was “transformed into a war zone”.
The mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that “on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves” following the direct targeting of officers by the protesters. An independent investigation into the shootings has been formally opened, as is protocol whenever Dutch police use their weapons.
Dutch justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, said: “Protesting is a great right in our society, but what we saw last night is simply criminal behaviour. It has nothing to do with demonstrating.” However, organiser Joost Eras, stated “we’re not rioters, we come in peace”. He insists their intention was to stand against the exclusion of unvaccinated individuals from bars and restaurants over the winter months. Eras emphasised that “People want to live, that is why we are here”.
There were also peaceful protests in Amsterdam, as well as the southern Dutch city of Breda where no issues were reported following the announcement of restrictions. Some other protests across the country were called off as a result of the violence in Rotterdam.
There have also been protests in Austria where the toughest lockdown across Europe in months has been announced. Austria became the first country in Europe to make vaccinations mandatory for all, announcing that all those eligible must bevaccinated by February 2022. As many as 40,000 people were reported to have attended protests in Vienna.
Cases are rising across Europe due to a combination of low vaccine uptake, waning immunity among people already inoculated and growing complacency about masks and distancing after governments relaxed restrictions over the summer.
As countries across Europe begin to slowly intensify restrictions for the winter months, there is speculation that we may see an increase in anti-restriction and anti-lockdown protests across the continent.
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