Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has criticised three nights of riots over anti-COVID measures, calling the unrest “pure violence” by “idiots” and vowed to prosecute those responsible.
The riots in several cities around the country since Friday were “violence under the guise of protest”, the prime minister said. He added he would always defend the right to protest, but “I will never accept is that idiots use pure violence against people … who keep this country safe,” he told Dutch media.
According to Rutte, the police and the judiciary will do everything they can to find the perpetrators of the riots which, according to the prime minister, had “nothing to do with demonstrating”.
Police fired shots in Rotterdam and about 145 people were arrested across the Netherlands over three days of unrest sparked by COVID restrictions. “People want to live,” said one of the organisers of the Dutch protests, Joost Eras. “That’s why we’re here.”
While this was not the first, it was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the Netherlands since COVID restrictions were first imposed last year.
In January, rioters had attacked police and set fires on the streets of Rotterdam after a curfew came into force.
The country is more than a week into western Europe’s first partial lockdown this winter.
On Monday, Austria introduced the most dramatic COVID restrictions seen in Western Europe for months with a full lockdown.
Austria is also imposing a sweeping vaccine mandate from February 1, one of few countries in the world to announce such a step so far.
A crowd of 40,000 marched through Vienna on Saturday decrying “dictatorship”, while some 6,000 people protested in the city of Linz on Sunday.
Vienna’s rally was organised by a far-right political party, and some protesters wore a yellow star reading “not vaccinated”, mimicking the Star of David Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust.
Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization head of emergencies, said: “Quite frankly, some countries are in such a difficult situation now that they’re going to find it hard not to put in place restrictive measures, at least for a short period of time, to reduce the intensity of transmission.”