Dutch police detain 400 after protest over coronavirus restrictions

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Police in The Hague said they detained some 400 people on Sunday after demonstrators refused to leave a protest against the Dutch government’s social-distancing measures put in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Several thousand protesters had gathered in the Malieveld area in The Hague, close to the Dutch seat of government, even though the rally had been banned by the municipality.

“We have detained some 400 people today. A large number of them have been since let go,” the police said on Twitter.

The authorities had allowed a brief protest to go ahead in the afternoon before asking demonstrators to leave.

Protesters were wearing T-shirts that read: “Stop the lockdown” and carried banners demanding that the Dutch rule to keep a distance of 1.5 metres (5 feet) from one another be lifted.

Police eventually ended the demonstration and detained a group of 400 people who refused to leave.

The Hague Mayor Johan Remkes said the demonstration was banned because authorities had information that “troublemakers” from all over the Netherlands, including groups of known football hooligans, were planning to descend on The Hague.

“This has nothing to do with protesting or the right to freedom of speech. This group was deliberately trying to disturb public order,” Remkes said in a statement.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Edmund Blair and Peter Cooney