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Dutch Riot Over COVID Restrictions a Second Night; 7 Arrested

Thousands take part in a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Nov. 20, 2021.
Thousands take part in a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Nov. 20, 2021.

Police arrested seven rioters in The Hague on Saturday night after youths set fires in the streets and threw fireworks at officers. The unrest came a day after police opened fire on protesters in Rotterdam amid what the port city's mayor called "an orgy of violence" that broke out at a protest against coronavirus restrictions.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, two soccer matches in the top professional league had to be briefly halted after fans — banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week — broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo.

Police said via Twitter that seven people were arrested in The Hague and five officers were injured. One needed treatment in a hospital.

Local media outlet Regio 15 reported that rioters threw bicycles, wooden pallets and motorized scooters on one of the fires.

The rioting in The Hague was on a smaller scale than the pitched battles on the streets of Rotterdam on Friday night, when police said three rioters were hit by bullets and investigations were underway to establish if they were shot by police. Earlier police said two people were hit. The condition of the injured rioters was not disclosed.

Officers in Rotterdam arrested 51 people, about half of them minors, police said Saturday afternoon. One police officer was hospitalized with a leg injury suffered in the rioting, another was treated by ambulance staff and countless others suffered minor injuries.

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday that "on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves" as rioters rampaged through the port city's central shopping district, setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.

"They shot at protesters, people were injured," Aboutaleb said. He did not have details on the injuries. Police also fired warning shots.

Police combing through video footage from security cameras expect to make more arrests.

Photos from the scene showed at least one police car in flames and another with a bicycle slammed through its windshield.

Riot police and a water cannon restored calm after midnight.

It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the Netherlands since coronavirus restrictions were first imposed last year. In January, rioters also attacked police and set fires on the streets of Rotterdam after a curfew came into force.

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus condemned the events.

"The riots and extreme violence against police officers, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are disgusting to see," he said in a statement.

"Protesting is a great right in our society, but what we saw last night is simply criminal behavior. It has nothing to do with demonstrating," he added.

Police units from around the country raced to Rotterdam to help bring Friday night's situation under control. Aboutaleb said that gangs of soccer hooligans were involved in the rioting.

An independent investigation into the shootings by police was opened, as is the case whenever Dutch police use their weapons.

The government has said it wants to introduce a law that would allow businesses to restrict the country's coronavirus pass system to only people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 — that would exclude people who test negative.

Earlier Saturday, two protests against COVID-19 measures went off peacefully in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda.

Thousands gathered on Amsterdam's central Dam Square, despite organizers calling off the protest. They walked peacefully through the streets, closely monitored by police. A few hundred people also marched through the southern Dutch city of Breda. One organizer, Joost Eras, told broadcaster NOS he didn't expect violence after consulting with police.

"We certainly don't support what happened in Rotterdam. We were shocked by it," he said.

The country has seen record numbers of infections in recent days and a new partial lockdown came into force a week ago.

Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet.

"The center of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone," it said. "Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never, the solution.”