Seven people have been hurt after Dutch police fired on anti-lockdown rioters on Friday night, amid rising anger at the re-introduction of European Covid-19 measures.
Police confirmed the injuries in Rotterdam on Friday and said they had fired both ‘warning shots’ and directly at protesters – but did not say if live ammunition or rubber bullets were fired.
Local media reported that at least 20 people were arrested.
Police also fired water cannons to disperse demonstrators who lit fires and set off fireworks in one of Rotterdam’s main shopping streets, one week after the new Covid-19 measures came into force.
The violent scenes came amid a rising anger at coronavirus measures across Europe, with Austria making vaccines mandatory and introducing a full lockdown from Monday, and German ministers not ruling out following its neighbour’s lockdown lead.
Restrictions have also been placed on the unvaccinated in Germany – where they have been banned from Restaurants – as well as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Video from social media appeared to show a person being shot in Rotterdam, but there was no immediate word on what happened.
Police said in a tweet that it was ‘still unclear how and by whom’ the person was apparently shot.
Local media reported seven people were injured and at least 20 were arrested, with one eyewitness – a press photographer – telling De Telegraaf they saw shell casings ‘everywhere on the floor’.
Police spokesperson Patricia Wessels confirmed that police fired shots, though it was not immediately clear what type of rounds were fired.
‘We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening,’ she said.
‘We know that at least two people were wounded, probably as a result of the warning shots, but we need to investigate the exact causes further.’
Other footage showed burnt out police cars and rioters throwing fireworks and rocks at police, while photos in Dutch media showed at least one police car ablaze and another with a bicycle smashed through the windshield.
Local news outlet NL Times reported that a journalist was attacked of the street, while local broadcaster Rijnmond said the reporter was beaten and his camera was destroyed.
Local media also reported gangs of soccer hooligans were involved in the rioting.
Police said that riot police later launched charges at the demonstrators, adding: ‘The water launcher has been deployed.’
The situation had largely calmed later but the smoking wreckage of a burned-out police car and dozens of smashed bicycles littered the scene, an AFP reporter said.
Riot police carrying shields and batons were directing groups of people away from the area. Officers on horseback and in police vans patrolled the streets.
Police also cordoned off several scenes to comb for evidence, with a human finger visible on the ground at one of them, the AFP correspondent said.
‘Most of the demonstrators are now gone. There only remain a few groups in a few places,’ police spokesman Jesse Brobbel told AFP.
Dutch police said units from around the country were brought in to ‘restore order’ to Rotterdam.
‘Dozens of arrests have now been made, it is expected that more arrests will follow. Around seven people have been injured, including on the side of the police,’ a police statement said.
At least one police car was set on fire during the protest, a police spokesman confirmed to AFP. The spokesman would not confirm the number of people injured
Several electric scooters and other items were also torched, with several hundred protesters involved in the riots, images on Dutch media and social media showed.
Local authorities issued an emergency order banning people from gathering in the area in a bid to prevent further violence, and the authorities also called on bystanders and people who recorded images of the riots to send the footage to police for further investigation.
Rotterdam’s busy main railway station had been closed as a result of the disturbances.
The several hundred people had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a ‘corona pass’ showing they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection.
The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test.
‘This is a very serious situation which requires action with the highest priority,’ said the emergency order by the Rotterdam municipality. ‘It is therefore necessary to issue this emergency order so as to maintain public order and to protect the safety of persons.’
Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet.
‘The center of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone,’ it said. ‘Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never, the solution.’
Like much of the rest of Europe, the Netherlands has seen Covid cases soar to record levels in recent days, with more than 21,000 new infections reported on Friday.
The latest restrictions were announced on November 12, and sparked clashes between demonstrators and police outside the justice ministry in The Hague.
The restrictions came into force the following day, shuttering bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets at 8:00 pm daily, while non-essential shops must shut at 6:00 pm.
People are limited to having four visitors at home and have been advised to work at home unless absolutely necessary.
Public events have been scrapped while football matches must be played behind closed doors.
Schools however remain open, and people are allowed to leave their homes without restrictions.
The Dutch government has said it will review the situation on December 3.
It is considering excluding the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants, limiting admittance to people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the disease, but there was significant opposition to the plan during a debate in parliament this week.
The Netherlands suffered its worst riots in four decades in January after a night-time Covid curfew, the country’s first since World War II, came into force.
Earlier Friday, the government banned fireworks on Dec. 31 for the second straight year. The ban is intended ‘to prevent, as much as possible, extra strain on health care, law enforcement and first responders,’ the government said Friday.