Thousands protest in Amsterdam against Dutch coronavirus lockdown

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FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Amsterdam

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch riot police used water cannon to disperse around two thousand people at an unauthorised protest in Amsterdam on Sunday against a national lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The protesters gathered on a square in front of the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum art galleries, carrying signs reading "Freedom: stop this siege" and chanting "What do we want? Freedom!".

None wore masks, which are not mandatory outdoors, and few respected social distancing rules, prompting the authorities to disperse the crowd due to health concerns, the Amsterdam authorities said in a statement.

The city had declined an application for the protest to be held on Museum Square. The demonstrators refused to leave when police told them to do so, and some threw fireworks.

Riot police then used water cannon to try to disperse the gathering. The authorities said they had arrested around a hundred people who took part in the protest.

The government closed schools and most shops in December to try to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases, and this week extended the lockdown by at least three more weeks.

In the early days of the pandemic, the Netherlands was generally more reluctant than most of its neighbours to impose social restrictions. But during the second, winter wave it has found its hand forced by the rapid spread of infections and growing pressure on its hospitals.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson)