Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday condemned the riots that took place across the Netherlands over the weekend.
Demonstrators attacked police and set fires to buildings and vehicles as a protest against a nighttime curfew, implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Police said hundreds of people had been arrested after incidents that began on Saturday evening and continued until the early hours of Monday, including some in which rioters threw rocks, and in one case knives, at police. In another incident, youthstorched a coronavirus testing center.
"It is unacceptable,'' Rutte told reporters outside his office in The Hague. "This has nothing to do with protesting, this is criminal violence and that's how we'll treat it."
Schools and nonessential shops in the Netherlands have been closed for over a month. Bars and restaurants, meanwhile, have been shut since mid-October.
New curfew comes into force
The Dutch government announced a curfew last week, which came into effect on Saturday, over fears that the British variant of the coronavirus may cause a spike in cases.
Police used water cannons, dogs and officers on horseback to disperse a protest in central Amsterdam on Sunday afternoon. Around 200 protesters, some of whom were throwing stones and fireworks, were arrested.
"We haven't seen so much violence in 40 years," union board member Koen Simmers told television program Nieuwsuur.
Eindhoven mayor: 'My city is crying'
Worst hit was the southern city of Eindhoven, where police clashed with hundreds of rioters who torched a car, threw rocks and fireworks at officers, smashed windows and looted a supermarket at the railway station.
"My city is crying, and so am I,'' Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma told reporters on Sunday night. He described the rioters as "the scum of the earth."
In an emotional impromptu press conference, he added: "I am afraid that if we continue down this path, we're on our way to civil war."
The rioting coincided with the first weekend of a nationwide curfew the requires people to stay home from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.
Dutch police tweeted that 5,765 people had already been fined for non-compliance with the curfew.
jsi/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)