Dutch police break up anti-lockdown protest ahead of election

·2-min read
Protest against COVID-19 restrictions in The Hague

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch riot police used water cannon and batons on Sunday to disperse a crowd of several thousand anti-lockdown protesters gathered in the centre of The Hague a day before national elections.

Police took action after the protesters flouted social distancing rules, ignored warnings to disperse and threw fireworks and other objects at the police.

Police said they had detained 20 people and that two demonstrators had been injured by police dogs after refusing to leave.

A warning shot was fired by police when protesters kicked a police dog and threatened the dog's handler during an arrest, a police statement said.

Dutch authorities had stopped train services to the city, the seat of government, to prevent more protesters arriving.

Many in the crowd, gathered at the central Maliveld field in the city, were holding yellow umbrellas in a show of opposition and chanted "Love, freedom, stop dictatorship."

The Netherlands has been under a tough lockdown since late January with gatherings of more than two people banned, restaurants and bars shut and with the first night-time curfew since World War Two.

Voting in the national election will start on Monday, with polls open for three days to help to ensure social distancing at polling stations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD Party looks set to get a new four-year mandate after being in power since 2010.

A majority of voters reluctantly support the lockdown, given the Netherlands' current coronavirus infection rate which is towards the high end of Europe's range.

But the curfew, which has been extended until the end of March, prompted several days of rioting across the country when it was first imposed on Jan. 23.

The country of 17 million has registered more than 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 16,000 deaths in the pandemic.

(Reporting by Johnny Cotton; Writing by Anthony Deutsch. Editing by Jane Merriman)