Dutch riot police use water cannon to disperse anti-lockdown protesters

Dutch riot police used water cannon and batons on Sunday to disperse a crowd of several thousand anti-lockdown protesters gathered at a field in the center of The Hague a day before national elections.

The demonstration was broken up after the protesters flouted social distancing rules and ignored police warnings to disperse.

Local media said several arrests were made during the clashes. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Dutch authorities had stopped train services to the city, the seat of government, to prevent more protesters arriving. Police initially told people to go home and announced over loudspeakers that the event was over and warned that they would break up the protest by force if necessary.

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 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 January 23

"You can do some restrictions of course but you can limit it to the people who are vulnerable and weak in society," said Hans van der Arend, who traveled from the nearby port city of Rotterdam.

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

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