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

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Dutch riot police kick 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)

THE HAGUE – 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.