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Fresh wave of protests break out in Europe following reintroduction of COVID-19 restrictions

Several protests broke out in European cities and French overseas territories as protesters reacted to the reintroduction of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

Police officers and protesters clashed in Brussels as violence broke out during a protest attended by 35,000 people in the Belgian capital. The march, located in the city’s European Union and government district, largely focused on a ban on the unvaccinated from public venues such as restaurants and bars.

Protests also erupted in several Dutch cities on Sunday, November 21, which is the third night of unrest over the government’s coronavirus restrictions. Demonstrators also set off fireworks and vandalized property in Groningen, Leeuwarden, Enschede and Tilburg.

A Groningen police spokeswoman said riot police are present in the center to restore order. Authorities also issued an emergency order in Enschede, near the German border, and ordered people to stay off the streets.

In Leeuwarden, a football match was briefly disrupted as supporters, who were barred from games due to the restrictions, threw fireworks on the ground. There were also unrests in Rotterdam and in The Hague.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte lashed out at “idiot” rioters who rampaged through cities across the Netherlands as protests against the policies turned violent. So far, over 100 people have been arrested around the country and at least 12 have been injured during the demonstrations.

“This was pure violence disguised as protest,” Rutte said.

While the protest began peacefully, scenes turned ugly at the end of the Brussels protest march. Police fired water cannon and tear gas in response to protesters throwing projectiles, injuring three officers. Several of the demonstrators wore hoods and carried Flemish nationalist flags, while others wore Nazi-era yellow stars.

Social media images showed some demonstrators attacking police vans with street signs.

“Our goal today is to fight against the virus. Please, let us not get incited by a small group which would turn it into a fight against one another,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

New lockdown orders, vaccine mandates cause civil unrest

There were also demonstrations in Austria, where the government has re-imposed a new lockdown and vaccine mandate. Around 6,000 people gathered in Linz in a protest organized by a new political party a day after 40,000 marched in Vienna over partial lockdowns.

From Monday, 8.9 million Austrians will not be allowed to leave home unless it is to go to work, shop for essentials or exercise. Vaccination against COVID will also be mandatory from February 1 next year.

Austria is now in its fourth national lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic, and the government is threatening fines of up to $4,000 for people who refuse shots once they become mandatory in 2022. (Related: Austria tightens border controls as coronavirus cases reach 2,000.)

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean Castex is set to convene a meeting in Paris after a week of unrest over the COVID measures in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe. Roads remained blocked on Sunday after protesters defying a curfew looted and torched shops and pharmacies overnight after police made 38 arrests, injuring two members of the force.

The Guadeloupe prefecture said protesters had already fired on security forces and firefighters. The level of vaccination against COVID-19 is lower in France’s overseas territories compared to the mainland, but the government warned that even there, there were worrying signs of increased infection rates.

“The fifth wave is starting at lightning speed,” said Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman.

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