Police in the Dutch city of Rotterdam opened fire on anti-lockdown protesters Friday night as demonstrations broke out in numerous European cities over the weekend amid fresh mobility restrictions that seek to stem the spread of COVID-19. Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, defended the city’s police, blasting the protesters for what he characterized as “an orgy of violence” on the city that included setting fires in the central shopping district. “Police were forced to draw their weapons and even fire direct shots,” Aboutaleb said. More than 20 people were arrested Friday night and more arrests are expected as law enforcement officers continue to analyze security footage.
After the violence that erupted Friday night, a planned protest in Amsterdam for Saturday was canceled but demonstrators took the streets in several other European cities to protest against fresh virus restrictions that come at a time when COVID-19 cases are soaring. Tens of thousands of people marched through Vienna on Saturday to protest against a new nationwide lockdown that is scheduled to begin Monday. Protests also took place in Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, and Northern Ireland, according to the Associated Press.
Austria is set to become the first European country to put in place a full national lockdown since the summer prohibiting people from leaving their homes except for specific reasons. The lockdown, which comes at a time when officials are warning intensive care units in some states are close to reaching capacity, will last at least 10 days but could be extended to 20. The government has also said COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory starting in February. Many of the protesters that marched through Vienna Saturday carried signs with slogans that included “no to vaccination” and “down with the fascist dictatorship.” Around 66 percent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.
The World Health Organization is “very worried” about the rising COVID-19 cases in Europe, regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said. According to Kluge, there could be an additional 500,000 deaths in Europe by March unless steps are taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including stricter rules on face masks. “COVID-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” he told the BBC.