THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – Clashes erupted late Monday in a small Dutch town during violent protests over the planned opening of a center for asylum seekers, Dutch media and officials said.
In a repeat of scenes seen in several Dutch towns and villages since late last year amid growing tensions over record numbers of migrants, police intervened to disperse about 1,000 people who rallied in central Heesch.
It was not immediately clear from police how many people had been arrested and whether anyone was injured.
The riot came only hours after populist far-right politician Geert Wilders called for Islamic male refugees to be kept locked up in asylum centers, saying such a move was needed to protect Dutch women after the New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne, Germany.
A Facebook page “Protest AZC Heesch” — which had over 3,000 likes — had called for supporters to join a rally from 7:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) outside the town hall in Heesch. “AZC” is Dutch shorthand for an asylum seekers center.
Town officials aimed to hold a public meeting around 8:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) to discuss plans to house some 500 refugees in the town over the next ten years.
But the atmosphere turned nasty, and the meeting was abandoned as dozens of protesters tried to storm the town hall, the Dutch news agency ANP said.
A group of protesters threw fireworks and eggs at the building, which was evacuated, sources told ANP.
A message posted on the town’s website from the mayor, Marieke Moorman, said the town “had given police extra powers” after a “demonstration ran out of control.”
Police restored calm later in the evening.
In December, Dutch police fired warning shots to disperse a demonstration in the town of Geldermalsen against a planned refugee center for some 1,500 migrants.
There have been several other outbreaks of violence as Dutch officials have sought to explain the country’s migrant policy.
Europe is grappling with its biggest influx of refugees since World War II with more than 1.1 million people having arrived on its shores, most fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and poverty in Africa.
But the crisis has polarized opinion in the Netherlands, which by mid-November had already taken in a record 54,000 asylum seekers.
Fueling the debate, Wilders said in a new video for his Freedom Party (PVV) Monday that “I propose that we lock the male asylum seekers up in the asylum centers.”
His party is riding high in popular opinion with the latest polls suggesting that if elections were held today it would snatch the largest bulk of seats in the Lower House — 36 out of 150 — enough to force talks about building a coalition government.