THE HAGUE, Jan 27 — Cities across the Netherlands were calmer yesterday after three nights of rioting against a coronavirus curfew as authorities vowed to crack down on the unrest, blaming “scum” for the looting and arson and deploying a huge police presence on the streets.

There were no major incidents reported in either Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague, where previous clashes had left a trail of looted shops, smashed windows and burned cars in the worst unrest the country has seen in decades.

A large crowd of young men gathered briefly and set off fireworks in Amsterdam late yesterday, and 33 were arrested in the port city of Rotterdam for vandalism or breaking the curfew, police said, but no serious incidents were reported.

At least 400 people have now been arrested after the Netherlands imposed its first nationwide curfew since World War II.

Several cities had granted police extra powers amid reports that fresh protests were being organised on social media against the 9:00pm to 4:30am curfew.

“You don’t capitulate to people who smash shop windows,” Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra told ANP national news agency yesterday.

“Scum does this,” he added.

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus also said the government would keep the curfew in place. It is expected to last until at least February 9, in what the government says is a vital step to bring down Covid-19 cases.

Police unions called it the worst rioting in four decades, when evictions from illegally occupied buildings sparked clashes with squatters in the 1980s.

Dutch police chief Henk van Essen condemned the violence, saying “it has nothing to do any longer with the right to demonstrate”.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter that “Criminal violence has to stop.”

‘Shameless thieves’

The government announced the curfew last week and it was supported by a majority of MPs.

Exemptions are allowed, for example for people having to work, attend funerals or walk their dogs, on condition that they present a certificate.

The protests began on a small scale on Saturday night, with a single riot in the northern village of Urk in the conservative protestant “Bible Belt”.

But on Sunday they spread, with police using water cannon, tear gas and horses against rioters in the southern city of Eindhoven and in Amsterdam.

As the clean-up operation started, mayors of several cities reacted with anger. Rotterdam’s Ahmed Aboutaleb called rioters “shameless thieves”, the NOS national broadcaster reported.

“Does it feel good to wake up this morning with a suitcase full of stolen goods next to you?” he asked rioters in an online message.

The country was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.

More than 13,600 people have died in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic.

‘Genie out of bottle’

Dutch media have said that the protesters are a mixture of hardcore anti-lockdown activists along with other, largely young people frustrated with the increasingly tough measures in a country that until recently had some of Europe’s laxest Covid rules.

In some cities, hardcore football club supporters formed groups to defend stadiums and hospitals from looters. Experts warned however that such actions could inflame an already tense situation.

“Right now, the genie is out of the bottle,” Carsten de Dreu, a social psychology professor at Leiden University told AFP.

He said the government may have foreseen that tougher measures like closing clubs, shops and introducing a curfew could lead to riots.

“We knew that in advance and we saw it coming,” he said.

“Perhaps one should have been thinking months ago that we should not only have a lockdown, but also about making a point about giving back some of the social functions that have now been taken away.”

Neighbouring Belgium, which is also under curfew, meanwhile feared a spillover of the unrest after calls on social media for protests on Saturday.

“We take this very seriously because we are close to the Dutch border,” Paul Van Miert, the mayor of the Belgian town of Turnhout, told broadcaster VRT. — AFP