EU wants calm amid COVID-19 protests; rioters called ‘idiots’

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Young women take their lunch under the Plague Column on Graben, a street in Vienna’s city center usually crowded with people, in Vienna, on 22 November.Joe Klamer / AFP / Getty Images

Protesting against stringent COVID-19 measures in much of Europe in the past, officials on Monday pleaded for patience, calm and a willingness to have a vaccine shot in hand as infections spiraled upward again.


And for those who abused the protest to incite violence, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Root called them “idiots”.

Protest marches from Zagreb to Rome and from Vienna to Brussels and Rotterdam, bringing out tens of thousands, all had one message from a coronavirus-weary crowd – we’ve had enough!

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“Not being able to work where you want to be is not what we stand for, it’s not freedom,” said Evelyn Denair, who was at a Sunday march in Brussels , which attracted a crowd of over 35,000.

“We live in Western Europe and we just want to be free, how we were before,” she said.

Government leaders and EU officials made it clear on Monday that a return to the bygone days was still out of the question and that violence in some processions was counterproductive.

However much of the discontent is targeted at politicians who promised that vaccination would bring freedom. With the delta version ensuring that infections are rampant, EU governments are being forced to reimpose barriers and – in some countries – impose stricter restrictions on non-vaccination.

“The rising numbers are unfortunately fueling vaccine hesitation, and we all need to take a strong stand against it,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said. However, she said the spike is mainly to lay the blame on those who refuse to take a shot.

“But now we are facing a pandemic driven mainly by the unaffiliated,” Kyriakides said.

According to officials, vaccinees cause decisive infections and deaths, albeit at much lower rates.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday attacked the ‘stupid’ rioters who ravaged cities in the Netherlands this weekend as protests against coronavirus policies turned violent.


Root condemned rioters in Rotterdam and the Netherlands, after protests against the coronavirus there and anger over lockdown measures being put in place in Brussels to try to curb rising infection rates descended into violence.

Late on Friday, police in Rotterdam fired live fire to disperse rioters, and four people were shot. In total, about 100 people were detained in both countries.

“I realize there’s a lot of tension in society because we’ve been dealing with all the misery of the coronavirus for so long,” Root said. But he insisted that the rioters were something entirely different, “a pure blast of violence directed against our police, against our firefighters, against ambulance drivers.”

The scenes were ugly even at the end of the Brussels protest march, with rioters pelting stones at police, who used tear gas and water cannons to break up the crowd.

“Our goal today is to fight the virus. Please, we must not be provoked by a small group that will turn this into a fight against each other,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Cru.

The protests come as a fourth wave of protests is locking down Austrians and forcing renewed restrictions in many European countries on anything from working in the office to drinking in bars.

Dutch violence comes a week into a new partial lockdown in the Netherlands and after an announcement that the government was banning fireworks on New Year’s Eve in an effort to ease tensions at hospital emergency rooms. In the riots across the country, youths threw fireworks at police officers.

The European Union said that scientific evidence suggests that increased vaccination will reduce the crisis and prevent more deaths.

“You know the three words all too well – vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate,” said spokesman Stefan de Kiersmaeker.

Austria has begun its fourth national lockdown as coronavirus cases rise and intensive care capacity ramps up.


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