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Netherlands Faces Unrest As Protesters Demonstrate Against Curfew

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A new curfew in the Netherlands was supposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it ended up setting off the worst civil unrest in four decades there. In a small southern city, protesters looted a supermarket. And in Amsterdam, rioters threw fireworks at police officers.

Bloomberg News journalist Joost Akkermans has been covering the unrest from Amsterdam, and he joins us this morning. Thanks for being here.

JOOST AKKERMANS: Good morning.

MARTIN: What happened last night? I mean, just what can you tell us at this point?

AKKERMANS: Well, we've had some unrest ever since the curfew started on Saturday evening from 9 p.m. It's a nighttime curfew, obviously, and we've had unrest for the - for every night since then. But I have to say that last night was the calmest since. We've had over a hundred arrests, which is way fewer than we had in previous days.

MARTIN: So as we've noted, this has been happening since Saturday night. Can you just explain what is animating these protests? It's about the COVID restrictions, but what specifically?

AKKERMANS: Well, if I'm reading local reports - because this has been happening all over the country and I've not been physically there because of COVID...

MARTIN: Sure.

AKKERMANS: ...I think we have to distinguish two very distinct groups within the protest. Part of the group - for example, we saw this on Sunday here in Amsterdam near the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in the center of town. There are people protesting who believe that the government is infringing on their personal freedom, and they're protesting that. And obviously the curfew on top of the lockdown - this country has been in lockdown since mid-October. The curfew is sort of added to that. And some people are protesting that particular bit.

The second group - and this is a very varied group and very confusing because it's unclear who these people exactly are. But it's clear from reports and also social media clips on video that some people are basically doing this just to incite violence and riot, smash shop windows, et cetera.

MARTIN: With no other motive, just for the sake of violence?

AKKERMANS: That is what officials are now trying to determine. It's clear that officials here - the government officials, but also legal authorities want to stamp down on this, which may in part have been the reason that last night was a bit more quiet than previous evenings because police was out in major force across the country. But that's what they're trying to determine. And then once they've determined why they're doing it, more importantly, try to recoup the damages, for example, for shopkeepers, bus stops that were smashed, et cetera.

MARTIN: So I understand there's an election in the Netherlands coming up in March. Can you explain the political element of all of this, if there is one?

AKKERMANS: That is indeed the big question - what and if this will have an impact on the elections that are due on March 17, which is St. Patrick's Day, I now remember. The government in the Netherlands fell earlier this month. I won't go into details about the why, but that basically means that Prime Minister Mark Rutte has a caretaker government, not taking on board any new big legislation. But of course, COVID-19 is still high on his agenda and also with the approval of Parliament, but it now will be the main question on how this will impact the campaign.

And it's already clear, listening to Mark Rutte, who on Monday called the protesters idiots - and the finance minister a day later called the protesters scum. An opposition leader has called for the army to be deployed. It's clear that the election campaign is playing a role in this. What the impact on the seats in Parliament will be, we'll have to wait and see.

MARTIN: OK. We'll keep posted on it. Joost Akkermans, Amsterdam bureau chief for Bloomberg. Thank you.

AKKERMANS: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "CAROUSEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.