Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands said on Monday that anyone involved in riots over the weekend protesting the country’s coronavirus measures had engaged in “criminal violence” and warned that perpetrators would be treated accordingly.
Hundreds of people were detained during unrest in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and at least eight other cities after the start of a 9 p.m. curfew on Saturday, the police said. Officers used tear gas, attack dogs and water cannons to disperse crowds in the southern city of Eindhoven, where shops were looted and cars set on fire. In Urk, a staunchly protestant fishing village young people burned down a Covid test facility.
The riots repeated for a third night on Monday evening in the Dutch cities of Rotterdam and Geleen, Reuters reported.
“This has nothing to do with protest or fighting for freedom,” Mr. Rutte, told reporters on Monday. “This is criminal violence, and we will treat it as such.”
His caretaker government implemented harsh new lockdown measures last week, vetted by Parliament, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Flights to Britain, South Africa and most of South America were halted on Saturday. It also implemented a nationwide curfew, the first since World War II.
The mayor of Eindhoven, John Jorritsma, was visibly upset when he spoke to reporters about the violence in the city. He called the rioters “scum of the earth” and said he feared the Netherlands, normally one of the quietest countries in the European Union, was “on a path of civil war.”
A spokesman for the Dutch police union said the group feared that the illegal protests and riots were just the start of the curfew-related unrest. “I hope it was a one-off, but I’m afraid it was a harbinger for the coming days and weeks,” the spokesman, Koen Simmers, said, according to the public broadcaster NOS. “We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years,” he added.
The protesters also gathered last week in Amsterdam after calls on social media to “resist” the lockdown rules and the government’s policies overall. Mr. Rutte is one of the longest-serving European leaders. Elections in the Netherlands are scheduled for March.
Protests also erupted over the weekend in Denmark. Five people were arrested on Saturday during an anti-lockdown demonstration in Copenhagen, local news outlets reported. Around 1,000 protesters gathered to demonstrate against what they said were limitations of their freedoms, after a call for protest by a Facebook group. Protesters tied an effigy of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to a pole and burned it, Danish channel TV2 reported. A sign was hung around the effigy’s neck saying, “She must and should be killed.”