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Violence in the Netherlands as anger at COVID measures grows in Europe

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By Euronews and AFP
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This photograph taken on November 20, 2021 shows a burned car after a protest against the partial lockdown and against the 2G government policy in Rotterdam
This photograph taken on November 20, 2021 shows a burned car after a protest against the partial lockdown and against the 2G government policy in Rotterdam   -   Copyright  JEFFREY GROENEWEG/AFP

The Netherlands suffered a third consecutive night of violence amid protests against new measures to tackle COVID-19.

Fifteen people were arrested in Rosendaal, local police said after protesters were involved in a fire at a school and setting off powerful fireworks.

Protesters also fired fireworks and caused extensive damage in the towns of Enschede, Groningen, Leeuwarden in the north, and Tilburg in the south.

It comes after the Netherlands reintroduced a partial containment last week to deal with a flurry of COVID-19 cases.

Over the weekend there were a total of 145 arrests.

It began on Friday when an "orgy of violence" broke out in Rotterdam. Some 51 people were arrested and seven were injured.

Five policemen were injured in The Hague on Saturday night in clashes with protesters, who threw stones, burned bicycles, and fired fireworks. Nineteen people were arrested.

Residents of the Schilderswijk neighbourhood, where the clashes took place, blamed the violence on the frustration and lack of prospects of young people, exacerbated by health restrictions.

Added to this frustration are the Dutch government's plans to introduce the so-called "2G" measures, which would ban certain places for the unvaccinated, including bars and restaurants.

"They don't know (if 2G will be introduced) and so they don't know what to do ... They think that's the way to make themselves heard," Mustafa Toprak, 31, told AFP. points out that many of them are not vaccinated. "It's a bad way to do it, but hey, it's the young people who go wild," he added.

In neighbouring Belgium, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday against reinforced COVID-19 restrictions.

Many of the 35,000 at the rally had already left for home when the demonstration descended into violence as several hundred people started pelting police, smashing cars and setting garbage bins ablaze.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannons and sought to restore order as dusk settled on the Belgian capital.

Three police officials and one demonstrator were injured in the clashes. In addition, 42 protesters were detained and two were arrested and charged in the violent spree that followed the march, said police spokesperson Ilse Vande Keere.

The marchers came to protest the government's strong advice to get vaccinated and any possible moves to impose mandatory shots.

Shouting “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and singing the anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao,” protesters lined up behind a huge banner saying “Together for Freedom" and marched to the European Union headquarters. Amid the crowd, the signs varied from far-right insignia to the rainbow flags of the LGBT community.

Credit: AP
Anti-lockdown protesters hold torches and banners in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.Credit: AP

There were also protests in Austria, which became the first country in the EU to impose a nationwide lockdown in the latest COVID wave. It will also introduce mandatory vaccination from next February, the government confirmed on Friday.

On Saturday, as Austrians drank one last mulled wine or did their shopping before the shops closed, about 40,000 people took to the streets of Vienna to denounce what they perceive to be "dictatorship". On Sunday, thousands of protesters gathered for a demonstration in Linz, in the north of the country.

Protesters gathered in thousands in the capital of Croatia as well, in response to the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 passes for all public employees.

The Saturday protest at the main Ban Jelačić square in Zagreb, dubbed as the "White Silent March" on social media, saw participants carry white balloons, candles, and flags, demanding the resignation of prime minister Andrej Plenković and snap elections.

The most recent set of pandemic measures require all employees of public institutions and those seeking their services to either have proof of full vaccination or a valid PCR test. The rule includes elementary and high school teachers and health workers.

Opposition leaders from populist and right-wing parties, Most and Homeland Movement, addressed the crowd. Some of the banners carried by the participants read "A grave is better than being a slave," "You can't have our children" and "Wake up, Croatia."

AP/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
People march down a street during a protest against vaccination and coronavirus measures in Zagreb, Croatia, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.AP/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Some of the protesters were also seen carrying crosses and banners with the image of Virgin Mary, while another group displayed flags and insignia of the Independent State of Croatia, a World War II Nazi puppet state.

Yellow Stars-of-David were also worn by some, while the crowd shouted slogans such as "God's law above all laws" and "we want the truth," as reported by the Croatian state news agency, Hina.

Croatia is a largely Catholic country, with more than 86 per cent declaring as the church's faithful in the 2011 census.

Many of the protesters were also displeased with the domestic media's pandemic coverage. Journalists covering the protests reported being verbally abused by the demonstrators, while one journalist from the local TV station RTL was physically assaulted, receiving several blows to the head.

Croatian government spokesperson Marko Milić called the attack "cowardly and barbarian" in a Twitter post on Saturday.

As the demonstrations at the square winded down, a large group went to the headquarters of the state broadcaster HRT, demanding that the television covers the protests live and asking to speak to the editor-in-chief and a police negotiator.