Utrecht preparing for violence after banning anti-lockdown protest

Hague police officer
A police officer in The Hague. Sept. 11, 2015DutchlightDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Authorities spent Saturday morning securing the perimeter of the Jaarbeursplein in Utrecht days after officials banned a protest against the Covid-19 social distancing measures in the Netherlands. "Netherlands in Revolt" was to hold a protest on Saturday against what they called the "1.5-meter madness," but fears of violence and rioting prompted officials to quash the event.

Investigators uncovered evidence "that a motley crew comprised of large groups of rioters want to use the demonstration to start a violent encounter," said the city's new acting mayor, Peter den Oudsten. He specified violent clashes with police as being one motive of some groups. "This will lead to serious disturbances, and, because the 1.5 meters cannot be complied with, it will also lead to health risks," said Den Oudsten. 

Despite the ban, Netherlands in Revolt members planned to show up anyway, reported local broadcaster RTV Utrecht. "We hope everyone stays at home," a police spokesperson said to the broadcaster. Some 1,500 people had been expected to attend. Fencing off the square was done to make it easier to quickly close and evacuate the area if it becomes too busy.

A similar protest in The Hague last month was invaded by what Prime Minister Mark Rutte called "coked-up hooligans," leading to violent confrontations with police near the city's central train station. A protest against glorifying the Dutch colonialist past in Hoorn also attracted people who had no interest in the protest but just wanted to try and instigate a riot with police, the mayor there said in June.