Dutch police break up anti-govt protest on eve of election

Dutch riot police arrest a man during a demonstration to protest government policies including the curfew, lockdown and coronavirus related restrictions in The Hague, Netherlands, Sunday, March 14, 2021. Thousands of people took part in the rally ahead of three days of voting starting Monday in a general election. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
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Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch police used a water cannon and officers on horseback galloped across a park in The Hague on Sunday to break up a protest against the government and its tough coronavirus lockdown on the eve of three days of voting in the general election.

Hague police tweeted that they deployed riot officers to break up the protest after hundreds of people defied repeated calls to go home. Earlier, they arrested one man for attacking an officer with a stick.

An unknown number of protesters were arrested as police broke up the demonstration. An AP photographer saw a police dog bite one man as he was arrested by baton-wielding officers.

Before the police ended the protest, several people carried a homemade banner emblazoned with the text in Dutch “Love & Freedom: No Dictatorship.” Many others held yellow umbrellas, which people taking part in anti-lockdown protests in recent weeks have often carried.

Another demonstrator carted a makeshift set of stocks with a photo of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s head stuck in the middle and a sign saying: “If you love the Netherlands, vote them out.”

Police tweeted before the scheduled start of the event that the maximum number of participants already had been reached. Hundreds more people arrived after the tweet, prompting authorities to halt trains heading to The Hague to prevent more people making their way to the city.

In recent weeks, smaller demonstrations have happened in Amsterdam, with riot police repeatedly called in to shepherd away protesters who refuse to leave.

They reflect a growing impatience among a small section of society at the lockdown that has seen businesses including bars, restaurants and museums shut down since mid-October. Despite the lockdown, numbers of infections remain stubbornly high. More than 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, party leaders took to the airwaves to seek the support of undecided voters, but also to start jockeying for position before the formation of the country’s next governing coalition.

In a television talk show airing Sunday evening on national broadcaster NPO1, Christian Democrat leader Wopke Hoekstra said he would prefer to continue ruling in the outgoing four-party coalition led by Rutte.

Rutte, in turn, said the Christian Democrats are the most natural partner for his conservative People’s Party for Freedom of Democracy.

“This is a real bromance,” said Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left party.

The comments foreshadow what could be a lengthy process of forming the next coalition after three days of coronavirus-affected voting wrap up Wednesday night.

A record 37 parties are taking part in the election for the 150 seats in Parliament’s lower house. The party that wins the most seats will be first in line to lead talks to form the next coalition, but with so many parties likely to enter Parliament it could be difficult to form a coalition that commands a majority.

If, as polls predict, Rutte’s party emerges with the largest number of seats he would be in a position to form his fourth ruling coalition and become the Netherlands’ longest-serving premier.

A limited number of polling stations are opening Monday and Tuesday, primarily to allow people considered vulnerable to the coronavirus to vote. Wednesday is the main day of voting and results will likely be known Wednesday night and into Thursday.