Dutch arrest hundreds at coronavirus protest clashes

Protesters demonstrate against the government's handling of the pandemic in The Hague on June 21, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Dutch police on Sunday (June 21) charged on horseback and fired water cannon to disperse protesters said to be frustrated with the government's coronavirus policies, arresting hundreds after skirmishes broke out.

Hundreds of people gathered in the city centre, many carrying placards or holding hands, to demonstrate against measures including the 1.5 metre social distancing rule.

Acting mayor Johan Remkes had initially barred the protest but later agreed to a time-limited demonstration.

The city's top official did not just ban the demonstration because of coronavirus measures, the ANP national news agency said.

Remkes "feared disorder because police had information that groups of troublemakers, among them football supporters would take part in the demonstration", it added.

Police said the protest was peaceful until a group of football fans clashed with riot police at the nearby Central Station, throwing stones and bottles.

Officers later surrounded dozens of demonstrators who refused to leave the nearby Malieveld grounds, a few hundred metres from the station.

"The remaining demonstrators refused to leave and have been detained under public demonstration legislation," The Hague police said in a tweet.

"Around 400 have been arrested," police said in a later update, adding that a large group had already been released.

"Five people have also been detained at Central Station for throwing stones," police said.

The Netherlands has been commended for its "intelligent lockdown" approach, which was less strict than some other European countries, with no full stay-at-home orders.

Restaurants, cinemas, cafes, museums and terraces were all authorised to open on June 1, but with social distancing rules in place and establishments limited to a maximum of 30 customers.

The Netherlands has confirmed 49,593 cases and 6,090 deaths, with one death reported overnight.

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