Western Morning News

Dutch government will punish curfew rioters

- MIKE CORDER

THE Dutch justice minister has said people arrested during three nights of rioting sparked by the country’s coronaviru­s curfew will face swift prosecutio­n.

Ferd Grapperhau­s said rioters would be quickly brought before courts by public prosecutor­s and face possible prison terms, if convicted. “They won’t get away with it,” he told reporters in The Hague.

His comments came as the Netherland­s is facing its worst civil unrest in years, initially triggered by anger at the country’s tough lockdown, but increasing­ly fuelled by calls for rioting on social media.

The violence has stretched the police and led at times to the deployment of military police. Mr Grapperhau­s was speaking after a third night of rioting hit towns and cities, with the most serious clashes and looting of stores in the port city of Rotterdam and the southern cathedral city of Den Bosch.

“If you rob people who are struggling, with the help of the government, to keep their head above water, it’s totally scandalous,” he added. He stressed that the curfew is a necessary measure in the fight against coronaviru­s.

A total of 184 people were arrested in Monday night’s unrest and police ticketed more than 1,700 people for breaching the 9pm to 4.30am curfew. The fine for the breaching the curfew is 95 euros (£84). Officers around the country also detained dozens suspected of inciting rioting through social media.

Police said rioters threw stones, fireworks and petrol bombs at officers. “This criminal violence must stop,” prime minister Mark Rutte said. “The riots have nothing to do with protesting or struggling for freedom. We must win the battle against the virus together, because that’s the only way of getting back our freedom.”

The rate of new infections in Netherland­s has been decreasing in recent weeks, but the government is keeping up the tough lockdown, citing the slow pace of the decline and fears of new variants of the virus spreading quickly. The country has registered more than 13,650 confirmed Covid-19 deaths.

A relative of a coronaviru­s victim in China is demanding to meet a visiting World Health Organisati­on team of experts, saying it should speak with affected families who allege they are being muffled by the Chinese government.

Beijing approved the visit by researcher­s under the auspices of the United Nations only after months of negotiatio­ns. It has not indicated whether they will be allowed to gather evidence or talk to families, saying only that the team can exchange views with Chinese scientists.

“I hope the WHO experts don’t become a tool to spread lies,” said Zhang Hai, whose father died of Covid-19 on February 1 last year, after travelling to the Chinese city of Wuhan and getting infected. “We’ve been searching for the truth relentless­ly. This was a criminal act, and I don’t want the WHO to be coming to China to cover up these crimes.”

The WHO team arrived in Wuhan on January 14 to investigat­e the origins of the virus.

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