Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Violence erupts in Brussels and the Netherlands over coronavirus restrictions

Sunday 21/November/2021 - 08:21 PM
The Reference

Violence broke out at a protest against anti-Covid measures in Brussels on Sunday, where police said tens of thousands of people were participating.

The march began peacefully but police later fired water cannon and tear gas in response to a group of participants throwing projectiles, an AFP photographer witnessed.

Several of the demonstrators caught up in the clash wore hoods and carried Flemish nationalist flags.

The stand-off with riot police took place near the Belgian capital's EU and government district.

Police said 35,000 protesters marched from the North Station in Brussels against a fresh round of Covid measures announced by the government on Wednesday.

The demonstration, called "Together for Freedom", largely focused on a ban on the unvaccinated from venues such as restaurants and bars.

It comes as youths in The Hague started fires in the streets and threw fireworks at officers in a second day of violent protests against coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands.

Lockdowns have been brought in across Europe as a fourth wave of Covid brings sweeping restrictions even for vaccinated people.

The unrest in the Netherlands came a day after police opened fire on protesters in Rotterdam amid what the port city's mayor called "an orgy of violence".

Police said in a tweet that seven people were arrested in The Hague and five officers were injured. One needed treatment in a hospital.

The rioting in The Hague on Saturday was on a smaller scale to the pitched battles on the streets of Rotterdam on Friday night, when police said that three rioters were hit by bullets. Investigations were under way to establish if they were shot by police. 

"These people out here are protesting about 2G and the lockdown," Ferdi Yilmaz, owner of a pizza shop in the Hague, told AFP. "They are angry about it."

Mr Yilmaz said police had dragged several people out of his shop, smashed the glass in its front door and hit him on the hand "for no reason." 

It was reported that police aimed fire directly at protesters’ legs - which would be the first time the tactic, which should only be used in emergencies, had been used since 2009. Officers fired after being surrounded by a large group of rioters and, in a second incident, to protect firefighters. 

Elsewhere on Saturday, two football matches in the top professional league had to be briefly halted after fans - banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week - broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo. Peaceful protests also took place in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda.

Officers in Rotterdam arrested 51 people, about half of them minors, police said on Saturday afternoon. One officer was hospitalised with a leg injury sustained in the rioting, while another was treated by ambulance staff and "countless" others suffered minor injuries.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor, told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that "on a number of occasions, the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves" as rioters rampaged through the port city's central shopping district, starting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers. 

Across Europe, governments are facing increased unrest, as populations bridle at new rounds of restrictions and talk of vaccines mandates brought in by governments desperate to prevent another winter of overcrowded intensive care wards and soaring deaths.

Austria has warned of increased radicalisation among its populace as up to 40,000 people flooded the streets of Vienna on Saturday in protest at a three-week lockdown and the announcement of a general vaccine mandate starting in February.

Families demonstrated shoulder to shoulder with neo-Nazis in the Austrian capital after the far-right Austrian Freedom Party called for people to show their objection to what it described as a “stone cold Covid dictatorship.”

The size of protest in a country with a population of less than nine million has taken authorities by surprise, laying bare a reluctance to endure another winter of business closures and curfews.

"It is apparent that, among those who are protesting, some are in the process of becoming even more radicalized," Austrian interior minister Karl Nehammer said after demonstrators hurled bottles at police and set off smoke bombs.

Neighbouring Slovakia became the latest EU country to confirm it was considering a vaccine mandate on Saturday, while also bringing in a "lockdown for the unvaccinated" for the winter. 

In the Czech Republic, some 10,000 protesters took to the streets of Prague last week after the government decided to bar entrance to venues to the unvaccinated, a controversial measure which has already been imposed in parts of Germany.

Germany's Social Democrats, who are likely to lead the next government in Berlin, ruled out bringing in a vaccine mandate this weekend despite low take-up placing the German health system under heavy strain in recent weeks. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that forcing vaccines on people “isn’t necessary” and is "constitutionally problematic."

Meanwhile, Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, has been accused of “sabotaging” the country’s lacklustre booster vaccine campaign after he decided to restrict use of the BionTech/Pfizer jab.

Mr Spahn wants doctors to use up a large stockpile of the Moderna jab, which has a use-by date at the end of December. But Germans, who are fond of the home-brand BionTech jab, appear reluctant to get protected with other brands.

"The health minister must either immediately announce that this idiocy will be rolled back or he needs to be removed from office," Markus Beier of the Bavarian Doctors' Association told Bild newspaper.

The French government has sent riot police to quell unrest over restrictions in the overseas territory of Guadeloupe, while Paris has described the dynamic of infections at home as increasing “at lightning speed.”

Cases in France have been lower than in central and northern Europe throughout the autumn, but a doubling of cases in the past week has led to concern that France is standing on the breach of a fifth wave of infections.

In the Caribbean department of Guadeloupe, rioters have shot at police, set up roadblocks, looted and burned down buildings, leading Paris to send in 250 officers from the mainland to try and restore order.

In an interview with Le Parisien published on Sunday interior minister Gerald Darmanin denounced the violence as "unacceptable."