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Rutte's comments came after coronavirus protests in the Netherlands and Brussels descended into violence amid simmering anger at lockdown measures being put in place in an attempt to rein in soaring rates of infection.
“I realize that there are a lot of tensions in society because we have been dealing with all the misery of coronavirus for so long,” Rutte said.
But he said violence in Rotterdam and other smaller incidents in the Netherlands had “nothing to do with demonstrating. This is a pure explosion of violence directed against our police, against our firefighters, against ambulance drivers.”
The violence came a week into a new partial lockdown in the Netherlands and after an announcement that the government was banning fireworks on New Year's Eve in an effort to ease the strain on hospital emergency rooms. In riots across the country, youths threw fireworks at police officers.
Demonstrations in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda protesting lockdown measures passed off without violence on Saturday and the vast majority of tens of thousands of protesters in Brussels remained peaceful.
Prosecutors in Rotterdam, in their latest update on rioting Friday night that saw police open fire on rampaging rioters, said Sunday that 49 people were arrested, six of them minors and many more “young adults.”
A separate investigation has been launched into the police firing at rioters. Prosecutors said four people suffered gunshot wounds in the rioting, but investigations are still underway into who fired the shots. Officers also fired warning shots.
Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, who described the rioting in his city as an “orgy of violence” said football hooligans were believed to be involved.
Rutte said that as a liberal leader of the Netherlands "I will always fight for the right to demonstrate in this country. That is part of our democracy, of our rule of law, but what I will never accept is that idiots use sheer violence against the people who work for you and me every day ... to keep this country safe under the guise of: We are dissatisfied.”
© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.