Netherlands Has Worst Riots in Four Decades Over Covid Curbs

The Netherlands faced its worst civil unrest in four decades after a third night of rioting against a government curfew aimed at curbing the pandemic, just weeks before a national election.

Police arrested 184 people after incidents in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and smaller Dutch cities on Monday evening, news agency ANP reported. Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday described the disturbances as “criminal violence.”

It’s not yet clear what impact the unrest will have on elections scheduled for March 17. Rutte’s government resigned on Jan. 15 over a scathing report on childcare benefits, making him the head of a caretaker cabinet until a new government is formed. That process could take months.

The latest opinion polls show that 53-year-old Rutte, who has enjoyed strong public support throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, is likely to stay on as premier as his VVD party consolidates its position as front-runner. In Dutch politics, the largest faction in parliament takes the lead in forming a cabinet.

Since the start of the curfew on Saturday, there have been widespread demonstrations in what a local police union has dubbed the worst riots in four decades. People began throwing fireworks at police officers on Sunday in a protest at a square near Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum, and images showed others looting a supermarket at Eindhoven’s main train station.

The incidents come as the country is in a lockdown, with non-essential shops, restaurants and bars closed until at least Feb. 9. The nationwide curfew was added to the government’s arsenal amid concern over new coronavirus variants that may spread more quickly.

At the same time, overall case numbers have come down in recent weeks. The latest weekly data will be released later on Tuesday.

While some protesters seemed focused on destroying property, others voiced their opposition to what they believe is an unjust infringement of their freedom by the government.

“This has nothing to do with fighting for freedom,” Rutte said on Monday in The Hague, adding that in his view, 99% of the Dutch people are adhering to the rules -- including the curfew.

“We are taking these measures not for the fun of it, but because we are fighting the virus and it is that virus that is taking the freedom from us at the moment,” he said.

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