Amsterdam squatter demonstration ends with 19 arrests

The last of several squatted buildings in Amsterdam Centrum was cleared by police Wednesday evening following an hours-long standoff between the officers on the ground and the squatters. By early afternoon at least eight people were arrested, with 11 more suspects processed by nightfall. Local artist Peter Klashorst was among those led away by authorities.

Trouble began Tuesday night into Wednesday morning when 40 to 80 protesters broke into the Tabakspanden group of buildings, pulled bricks from the street and set fires in the middle of the Spuistraat to create roadblocks. German guests staying at a hotel across the street said they “heard some popping, and shouting and loud music,” adding that it “was a restless night, yes.” Though cleared by police on Friday, the buildings were squatted since the eighties. Squatters protested the decision by building owner De Key to renovate the property, and turn it into 69 apartments and 2,000 square meters of office and retail space.

Throughout the day, paint bombs rained down upon armed police officers clad in riot gear, their transport units and battering rams, as well as the journalists gathered in front of the recently-occupied Bungehuis to cover the unfolding events. Police responded with water cannons in an attempt to knock back the squatters. The bombs were similar to balloons, and filled with paint, glass shards and rocks or concrete. At one point, heavy fireworks and several flares were lobbed at the officers. The projectiles mainly came from the fourth story of Spuistraat 217, and from either the fifth story or the rooftop of the building across the street. At least 150 police officers were involved at the beginning of the operation, with relief gathered in front of the Royal Palace on Dam Square. The back-up cops broke out in laughter at 10 a.m. from the site of their colleagues driving a paint-soaked water cannon truck onto the square.

“I did not expect to see this in Amsterdam,” said Supriya, tourist visiting from India and staying in a hotel on the block. “It sounds like I’m back home,” she said, referring to the loud noises overnight. As police announced orders to vacate the buildings over loudspeakers, the squatters replied with blasts of music ranging from "Holiday in Cambodia," by the Dead Kennedys, to the N.W.A. hit "Fuck the Police." A group of squatters wearing balaclavas gathered on the roof of Spuistraat 219 to taunt police, chant, dance and smack their street signs spray painted with logos like the anarchy symbol against one another. After police took a lunch break on the scene, they moved in on the squatted buildings at about 1 p.m., beginning with Spuistraat 199, then 201 and on up to 217, where eight people were arrested. Amongst those led from the scene was Amsterdam artist Peter Klashorst. More paint bombs were thrown at police, with each met by bursts from the massive water cannons. With each bomb that struck police equipment, many in the gathered crowd let out a cheer though they were kept at bay by the police line.

Police progressed across Wijdesteeg to enter the next set of buildings. A crane was brought in to place a converted shipping container on the rooftop of one building, with several officers waiting inside. By 3:15 p.m., officers were lifted by crane onto a second rooftop, Spuistraat 231. The operation hit a snag when officers evacuated the building reporting the smell of natural gas. A team from the fire department measured an excess of gas in the air, and a crew from infrastructure firm Liander was brought in to shut the gas main into the building. Squatters were told to leave the building because of the gas leak. When the operation resumed, authorities told reporters that barricades made things harder for police once they entered the last building sometime before 5:40 p.m. But it was completely cleared, police said, by 7 p.m. All told, 19 people were arrested in the demonstration. Their nationalities are not yet known.


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