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Dutch police arrest over 100 people at anti-government COVID-19 demonstration

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Police deployed water cannons against protestors in Amsterdam.
Police deployed water cannons against protestors in Amsterdam.   -   Copyright  ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN / ANP / AFP
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More than 100 people were arrested in the Netherlands after a violent demonstration over the weekend against the government's COVID-19 restrictions.

Police in Amsterdam fired a water cannon on an estimated 2,000 protestors who had gathered for an unauthorised rally on Sunday near the city's museum district.

Stones were thrown at police officers, while other demonstrators carried weapons and fireworks, authorities said.

Amsterdam municipality said riot police issued an "emergency order" and took action to disperse the crowd because people were not adhering to social distancing measures.

"Because of the danger to public health, it is important that everyone abides by the measures in force. The demonstrators present are not," the municipality said in a tweet.

The water cannon was deployed after several warnings were issued to those gathered on Museumplein, the authority added.

"Among the demonstrators was a group of 200 to 250 people who were clearly looking for a confrontation," the municipality added in a statement.

Police later confirmed that a total of 143 people were arrested, including 16 for "open violence", while fifteen were detained.

"The vast majority of the other suspects were arrested for failing to comply ... after an emergency ordinance came into force on Museumplein," police said.

Two police officers and a police horse were injured during the protests, while the authorities have not ruled out further arrests.

By mid-afternoon, the square was empty apart from dozens of police, although some protesters remained in streets nearby.

In December, the Dutch government closed schools, non-essential shops, museums, and gyms to stem the spread of the virus, before this week extending a national lockdown by at least three weeks.

The demonstration had been banned earlier in the week because of "the risks to public health and the control of public order". But the organiser of the demonstration, "Nederland in Verzet" (The Netherlands in Resistance) had refused a court order to gather only in Amsterdam's Westerpark.

The protest in Amsterdam took place as ministers in the Netherlands' caretaker government met in The Hague to discuss measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of imposing a curfew for the first time.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had announced his resignation on Friday after a damming report found thousands of parents in the country were falsely accused of child benefit fraud by tax officials. Ministers of the government are remaining in power until a new coalition can be formed at a general election on March 17.