THE HAGUE: Dutch police fired warning shots and arrested 14 demonstrators when a protest by hundreds of people against the opening of a refugee center turned violent, leaving several injured, officials said Thursday.
Two policemen were among those hurt late Wednesday when demonstrators began throwing stones, bottles and firecrackers to protest against a planned center for 1,500 migrants in the small Dutch village of Geldermalsen.
District police chief Lute Nieuwerth said “the atmosphere badly deteriorated” when a group of about 70 to 80 people began to attack the officers called to the scene.
Riot police fired warning shots into the air and charged the crowds to disperse them.
“I’m totally shocked over such a violent incident,” Nieuwerth told a press conference in the village Thursday.
Demonstrators also overturned barriers and tried to storm the town hall where a meeting was to be held to discuss the opening of the center.
The meeting was cancelled and some 300 people were taken to safety away from the crowds.
Europe is grappling with its biggest influx of refugees since World War II with more than 800,000 people having arrived on its shores, most fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and poverty in Africa.
The crisis has polarized opinion in the Netherlands, which by mid-November had already taken in a record 54,000 asylum seekers and is expecting thousands more by the end of December.
Those figures break the last record set in 1994 at the height of the Balkans conflict.
Local and national debates over how to handle the migrants have in past months become increasingly heated, at times deteriorating into violence.
Geldermalsen mayor Miranda de Vries also denounced Wednesday’s violence.
“It doesn’t matter what idea or proposal is under discussion in the council, we should be able to debate it with each other,” she said.
“Yesterday’s violence only leaves us more divided,” she said. “In a democracy, in our society, we debate with words.”
All of the 14 people detained were local residents, and the police chief appealed to onlookers to hand over any video recordings of the incident so they can pinpoint the instigators.
“There are some limits we shouldn’t cross,” said deputy justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff, quoted by Dutch television Thursday, although he acknowledged it was a “difficult” issue.
“When someone wants to voice their opinion, we let them, but we don’t do it by throwing firecrackers,” he said.