Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has condemned weekend riots against newly imposed coronavirus restrictions as “criminal violence”.
Rioters attacked police and set cars and bikes on fire to protest against a curfew introduced on Saturday.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, protesters threw fireworks, looted supermarkets and smashed shop windows. There were smaller protests in Amsterdam, and in some cities and towns around the country. More than 200 people have been detained, police said.
“This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such,” Rutte told reporters on Monday.
In Eindhoven, golf balls and fireworks were hurled at police in full riot gear, who eventually used tear gas to clear the crowds. Burning bikes were built into barricades. In the eastern city of Enschede, rioters threw rocks at the windows of a hospital.
A Covid-19 testing centre was also set alight on Saturday evening in the northern village of Urk, local authorities said.
“The fire in a screening centre in Urk goes beyond all limits,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.
Regional security councillors are meeting on Monday to discuss a response.
The Dutch government has just introduced its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic – including a night-time curfew which runs from 21:00 (20:00 GMT) to 04:30. It is the first in the Netherlands since World War Two.
Anyone caught violating it faces a €95 (£84) fine.
There is a sense of disbelief among people waking up to these images of chaos and destruction, in this usually peaceful and broadly law-abiding nation.
The mayor of Eindhoven has warned the country is heading for civil war; while some feel that may be an exaggeration, the Netherlands is becoming increasingly polarised over this issue.
National Security Council Chairman Hubert Bruls said that, while he understood the protesters’ frustrations, the more the Dutch persevered now, the sooner they could get their freedoms back.
Actually many see vaccines as the key, and the Netherlands is lagging behind there – last in the EU to roll out its vaccine programme. To date, 135,000 people have been given their first dose.
The Dutch government’s inconsistent messaging hasn’t helped to instil confidence. At the start of the outbreak, it resisted measures like masks and curfews, telling the Dutch they were sensible, rule-abiding and didn’t need to be treated like children.
That sense of exceptionalism, or “nuchterheid” – sobriety or level-headedness – has come back to haunt them. Here we are almost a year on. Countries that went hard are enjoying greater freedoms. People look across the border to Belgium where schools have reopened, while here they’re closed till at least 9 February.
Some people are finding it difficult to do the mental pivot required to accept that the Netherlands has been forced to introduce the draconian measures it initially dismissed.
The country’s bars and restaurants have been shut since October, while schools and non-essential shops closed last month.
A ban on flights from the UK, South Africa and South America has been put in place due to fears over new variants of the virus.
There have been more than 962,000 cases and 13,646 confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in the Netherlands, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.