Police interrupt anti-lockdown protest ahead of Dutch elections | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Police use water cannons and batons to disperse anti-lockdown protesters from a field in The Hague.

Police used water cannons and batons to disperse a crowd of several thousand anti-lockdown protesters gathered in a field in central The Hague a day before the Dutch election.

The protest was halted after protesters flouted social distancing rules and ignored police warnings to disperse. Local media said several arrests were made during the clashes. No injuries were immediately reported.

The Netherlands has been under a tough lockdown since late January with gatherings of more than two people banned, restaurants and bars closed and with the first nighttime curfew since World War II.

The Dutch authorities had stopped train services to The Hague, seat of government, on Sunday to prevent the arrival of other demonstrators. Police first told people to go home and announced over loudspeakers that the event was over and warned that they would break up the protest by force if necessary.

Police speak with injured protester after scuffle with them during protest against coronavirus restrictions in The Hague [Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters]

Before the demonstration was dispersed, several people carried a handcrafted banner with the text in Dutch “Love and freedom: no dictatorship”. Many in the crowd, gathered in the central Maliveld field in the city, held yellow umbrellas in opposition and chanted “love, freedom, stop the dictatorship”.

A protester carried a bunch of makeshift stocks with a photo of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s head stuck in the middle and a sign saying: ‘If you like the Netherlands, vote them.’

Election voting will begin on Monday, with polling stations open for three days to help ensure social distancing at polling stations. Rutte’s conservative VVD party appears poised for another four-year term.

A majority of voters reluctantly support the lockdown, given the current rate of coronavirus infection in the Netherlands, which is at the high end of Europe.

But the curfew, extended until the end of March, caused several days of riot across the country when it was first taxed on January 23.

In recent weeks, smaller protests have taken place in Amsterdam, with riot police repeatedly called in to drive away protesters who refuse to leave.

Protester holds sign during protest against coronavirus restrictions in The Hague [Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters]

They reflect a growing impatience among a small section of society over the lockdown that has seen businesses, including bars, restaurants and museums, shut down since mid-October.

The country of 17 million people has recorded more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 16,000 deaths in the pandemic.

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