Dutch police fired warning shots and injured several people after protests in Rotterdam against a partial lockdown of COVID-19 turned violent, with protesters setting fire to a police car and throwing stones.
Chaos erupted after a protest in the port city against recently introduced coronavirus restrictions and government plans to restrict access to some venues for the unvaccinated.
Dozens of people were arrested and a total of seven people were injured, including police officers, during a nighttime rampage in one of Rotterdam’s main shopping streets.
The Netherlands returned to Western Europe’s first partial winter season lockdown a week ago. The restrictions that affect restaurants, shops and sports are expected to remain in place for at least three weeks.
Rotterdam’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb described the scene as an “orgy of violence”.
“The police felt the need to end up pulling a police weapon to defend themselves,” he told reporters.
Police said in a statement that the demonstration that began on Coolsingel Street “has caused unrest. Fires were started in several places. Fireworks were set off and the police fired several warning shots.
“There are injuries related to the gunfire fired,” they added. They didn’t give a number, but Dutch public broadcaster NOS said two people had been injured.
Dutch media said several hundred demonstrators shouted slogans such as “freedom”, then threw stones at police officers and firefighters, and set fire to several electric scooters. The police used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
The situation had largely calmed down later on Friday night, but there was a strong police presence.
Photos in Dutch media showed at least one police car on fire and another with a bike smashed through the windshield.
The local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet.
“The center of our beautiful city has turned into a war zone tonight,” it said. “Rotterdam is a city where you can’t agree to things that happen, but violence is never and never the solution.”
The Dutch police said units had been brought in from across the country to “restore order” to the city.
The Rotterdam authorities issued an emergency ordinance banning people from gathering in the area “to maintain public order” while the central station was closed.
Demonstrations in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda are planned for Saturday. Local media say thousands of people are expected.
The Netherlands are trying to control a new wave of the coronavirus, with more than 21,000 new cases reported on Friday
The government is now considering banning unvaccinated people from bars and restaurants and only allowing access to people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease.
Similar steps have already been taken in neighboring Germany. Austria is completely banned and plans to make vaccines mandatory.