Police in Rotterdam have fired warning shots, injuring protesters, as riots broke out at a demonstration against government plans to impose restrictions on unvaccinated people.
Crowds of rioters torched cars and threw rocks at police in the centre of the Dutch port city on Friday, and police responded with shots and water canon.
“We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening,” police spokesperson Patricia Wessels said.
Photos in Dutch media showed at least one police car ablaze and another with a bicycle smashed through the windscreen.
Police said in a tweet that rioters started fires and threw fireworks. Authorities closed the city’s main railway station, they said.
“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.
The Rotterdam mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, described the riots as an “orgy of violence”.
“The police have felt the need to draw a police weapon in the end to defend themselves,” he told reporters.
The situation had largely calmed later but the smoking wreckage of a burned-out police car and dozens of smashed bicycles littered the scene.
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.
Dutch police said units from around the country were brought in to “restore order”.
Local media said gangs of football hooligans were involved in the rioting.
The government has said it wants to introduce a law that would allow businesses to restrict the country’s coronavirus pass system to people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19, which would exclude people who test negative.
The country has seen a string of record numbers of infections in recent days and a new partial lockdown came into force a week ago. Cases are also rising across Europe, thanks to a combination of low vaccine uptake, waning immunity among people inoculated early, and growing complacency about masks and distancing after governments relaxed curbs over the summer.
According to figures from OurWorldInData, the EU’s average has quadrupled in recent weeks, from just over 110 daily new cases per million people on 1 October to 446 on Thursday.
In January, rioting broke out in Rotterdam and other Dutch cities after the government announced a curfew in an attempt to rein in soaring coronavirus infections.
Earlier on Friday the government banned fireworks on 31 December 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.