131 arrested on 'calmer' night during Dutch virus curfew

Dutch police say that the fourth night of the Netherlands’ coronavirus curfew passed more peacefully than the previous three nights that were marred by rioting

Virus Outbreak Netherlands
Virus Outbreak Netherlands

Dutch police said Wednesday that the fourth night of the Netherlands' coronavirus curfew passed more peacefully than the previous three nights marred by rioting. Even so, officers arrested 131 people, mainly for public order offenses and incitement.

“It was calmer around the curfew on Tuesday night than the days before,” police said in a statement.

Underscoring the role of young people, who have been forced to stay home from school for weeks due to the country's tough lockdown, police said that most suspects arrested for inciting riots using social media were aged under 18 years.

The rioting has rocked the Netherlands, which has a caretaker government after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling coalition resigned earlier this month over a scandal involving child welfare benefit fraud investigations. The pandemic is expected to be a key campaign issue before a general election scheduled for March 17.

Neighboring Belgium expressed fears Wednesday that the unrest could spread, with calls for protests against the country's tough lockdown and its 9 p.m. curfew mounting on social media. The Dutch curfew, which began Saturday, also begins at 9 p.m.

"The violent demonstrations that degenerated in the Netherlands have apparently incited certain people to call, also in our country, for demonstrations against the health measures,” Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden’s office said.

Belgium, host of the headquarters for the 27-nation EU, has had one of Europe’s worst outbreaks. The nation of 11 million has seen over 20,800 confirmed virus deaths. The Dutch confirmed death toll is approaching 14,000.

The first suspects arrested during riots that first broke out on Saturday and spread to many towns and cities in subsequent days were due to appear in court on Wednesday.

Also, the Dutch parliament was to debate the rioting, with populist right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders calling for the army to be used to reinforce police stretched by the widespread civil unrest, the worst to hit the Netherlands in years.

Most of the arrests Tuesday night happened in Rotterdam, one of the worst-hit cities on Monday, when rioters threw rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police and looted shops. There was no such violence Tuesday night, but police detained 81 people in the port city as they sought to quickly stamp out trouble.

In a number of Dutch cities, football fans took to the streets to maintain order. Police chief Willem Woelders said Tuesday night that fans were free to express their opinions, but stressed that law enforcement was a job for police.

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