Violence today broke out in Vienna as 10,000 protesters - many from far-right groups - took to the streets to demonstrate against a new Covid-19 lockdown and mandatory vaccinations.
Demonstrations against virus restrictions also took place in Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, and North Macedonia on Saturday, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in Rotterdam.
Protesters rallied against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory COVID-19 passes needed in many European countries to enter restaurants, Christmas markets, or sports events, as well as mandatory vaccinations.
In Italy, 3,000 turned out in the capital's Circus Maximus, a field wherein ancient times Romans staged popular entertainment, to protest against 'Green Pass' certificates required at workplaces, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, sports venues, and gyms, as well as for long-distance train, bus or ferry travel within Italy.
In Northern Ireland, several hundred people opposed to vaccine passports protested outside the city hall in Belfast, where the city's Christmas market opened Saturday - a market where proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was required.
The Northern Ireland government voted this week to introduce vaccine certificates for admission to nightclubs, bars, and restaurants starting Dec. 13.
'People like us never give up,' read one banner, in the red, white, and green colors of the Italian flag. Virtually no one at the Rome protest wore a protective mask.
Switzerland saw 2,000 people protest an upcoming referendum on whether to approve the government's COVID-19 restrictions law, claiming it was discriminatory, public broadcaster SRF reported.
In Croatia, thousands gathered in the capital Zagreb, carrying Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols, along with banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions of people's freedoms.
A day after the Rotterdam rioting, thousands gathered on Amsterdam's central Dam Square, despite organizers calling off the protest. They walked peacefully through the city's streets, closely monitored by police.
North Macedonia also saw hundreds of anti-vaccination protesters march in downtown Skopje on Saturday evening against the country's health authority's recommendation of mandatory vaccinations.
Demonstrations against virus measures are also expected in other European countries - the latest in rising anger at the re-introduction of restrictions amid soaring cases on the continent.
This comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was 'very worried about the spread of Covid-19 within Europe as the continent battles a fresh wave of infections.
Regional Director Dr. Hans Kluge told the BBC that some 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken.
AUSTRIA: Protesters carrying a banner reading 'Control the border. Not your people' at the anti-lockdown demonstration held by the far-right Freedom Party in Vienna today
THE NETHERLANDS: A scooter set on fire during a protest against the 2G policy in Coolsingel, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 19 November 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered to protest against the tightened coronavirus measures
ITALY: Demonstrators listen to speakers and show their mobile phones during a protest against restrictions for the unvaccinated, at Rome Circus Maximus, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021
DENMARK: A man waves the national flag of Denmark in front of the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen as more than a thousand people gathered to protest the reintroduction of the national health pass
NORTHERN IRELAND: Demonstrators take part in a protest against Covid certification in Belfast city centre. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday, November 20, 2021
CROATIA: Demonstrators march in the centre of Zagreb to protest against Covid-19 measures such as obligatory certificates for the public sector on November 20, 2021
SWITZERLAND: Demonstrators protest against a planned coronavirus disease (COVID-19) law of the Swiss government, in Zurich, Switzerland November 20, 2021
NORTH MACEDONIA: People protest through downtown Skopje, North Macedonia, on Saturday, November 20, 2021
As the march kicked off on Vienna's Heldenplatz, thousands of protesters gathered on the massive square. About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most did not wear them.
Chanting 'resistance!' and blowing whistles, protesters began to move slowly down the city's inner ring road. Many waved Austrian flags and carried signs mocking government leaders like Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.
Some wore doctor's scrubs; others donned tinfoil hats. Most of the signs focused on the newly announced vaccine mandate: 'My Body, My Choice,' read one. 'We're Standing Up for Our Kids!' said another.
By mid-afternoon, the crowds had swelled to roughly 35,000 people, according to the police, and were marching down Vienna's inner ring road before heading back towards the Hofburg.
Police were pictured arresting two protesters. A spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests, for breaches of coronavirus restrictions and the ban on Nazi symbols.
Meanwhile, a few hundred protesters gathered in Amsterdam today and a similar number marched through the southern city of Breda over the latest Covid-19 measures.
It comes after violent riots last night in which 51 were arrested in Rotterdam after thousands of anti-lockdown protesters gathered on one of the city's main shopping streets.
Dutch police fired water cannons, 'warning shots' and bullets at protesters to disperse the crowd who had lit fires and set off fireworks. Police confirmed seven injuries, including officers, in the violence but did not say if live ammunition or rubber bullets were fired.
The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus contagion, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
The Dutch government has said it wants to introduce a law that would allow businesses to restrict the country's coronavirus pass system to only people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 — that would exclude people who test negative.
The violent scenes in Rotterdam mirrored much of the continent's reaction to similar schemes announced by Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia - with Italy and Greece also reportedly considering moves to restrict the movements of unvaccinated people.
AUSTRIA: Police officers arrest a protester during a demonstration against new Covid-19 restrictions, including a lockdown from Monday and mandatory vaccines from February 1, announced by the Austria government yesterday
AUSTRIA: Demonstrators light flares during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party in Vienna today as governments across Europe impose Covid-19 restrictions amid soaring cases
AUSTRIA: Violence today broke out in Vienna as 10,000 protesters took to the streets and lit flares to demonstrate against a new Covid-19 lockdown and mandatory vaccinations
AUSTRIA: Riot police stand in a circle as they prepare for potential violence in Vienna hours after an estimated 35,000 protesters gathered in the Austrian capital to protest Covid-19 restrictions
Austrians are protesting against a new national lockdown and mandatory vaccinations, which the government said yesterday would be rolled out on February 1.
Vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe - under 66 percent - and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said yesterday the country would go into lockdown for 10 days.
The shutdown will then be reevaluated and could be extended for a further 10 days.
Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled.
People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor, or exercising.
Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and its infections are among the highest in Europe, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.
'We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,' Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference.
'It hurts that such measures still have to be taken.'
Schallenberg also apologised to all vaccinated people on Friday night saying it was not fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.
'I'm sorry to take this drastic step,' he said on public broadcaster ORF.
Despite the violence a day earlier, around 300 protesters marched through the southern Dutch town of Breda near the Belgian border on Saturday carrying banners with slogans such as 'No Lockdown'.
Organisers said they opposed Prime Minister Mark Rutte's plans to exclude the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants.
A group that had called an Amsterdam protest for Saturday, United We Stand Europe, said on Facebook it had canceled the rally because 'last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam'.
But several hundred flag-waving protesters still gathered in central Dam Square, watched over by police vans, according to Dutch media and images on social media.
Footage from the Rotterdam violence showed burnt-out police cars and rioters throwing fireworks and rocks at police, while photos in Dutch media showed at least one police car ablaze and another with a bicycle smashed through the windshield.
Local news outlet NL Times reported that a journalist was attacked on the street, while local broadcaster Rijnmond said the reporter was beaten and his camera was destroyed. Local media also reported gangs of soccer hooligans were involved in the rioting.
One eyewitness - a press photographer – told local media they saw shell casings 'everywhere on the floor.
Cops also said it was 'unclear how or by whom' two people were shot during the chaos. Video from social media on Dutch broadcaster NOS appeared to show the person being hit in Rotterdam, but there was no explanation on what happened.
Officers arrested 51 protesters last night and were expected to detain several more after studying video footage from security cameras.
Late on Friday night, police said downtown Rotterdam remained restive and there was still a heavy police presence on the streets.
Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that 'on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves as rioters ran rampage through the port city's central shopping district, setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.
'They shot at protesters, people were injured,' Aboutaleb said, adding that several officers were injured in the violence.
Police spokesperson Patricia Wessels confirmed that police fired shots, though it was not immediately clear what type of rounds were fired.
'We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening,' she said. 'We know that at least two people were wounded, probably as a result of the warning shots, but we need to investigate the exact causes further.'
Police said that riot police later launched charges at the demonstrators, adding: 'The water launcher has been deployed.'
The situation had largely calmed late on Friday but the smoking wreckage of a burned-out police car and dozens of smashed bicycles littered the scene, an AFP reporter said.
Riot police carrying shields and batons were directing groups of people away from the area. Officers on horseback and in police vans patrolled the streets.
Police also cordoned off several scenes to comb for evidence, with a human finger visible on the ground at one of them, the AFP correspondent said.
'Most of the demonstrators are now gone. There only remain a few groups in a few places,' police spokesman Jesse Brobbel told AFP.
Dutch justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus said in a statement that the 'extreme violence' against police and fire fighters in Rotterdam was 'repulsive'.
'The right to protest is very important in our society but what we saw last night was simply criminal behaviour,' Grapperhaus said.
Dutch police said units from around the country were brought in to 'restore order' to Rotterdam.
'Dozens of arrests have now been made, it is expected that more arrests will follow. Around seven people have been injured, including on the side of the police,' a police statement said.
At least one police car was set on fire during the protest, a police spokesman confirmed to AFP. The spokesperson could not confirm the number of people injured.
Several electric scooters and other items were also torched, with several hundred protesters involved in the riots, images on Dutch media and social media showed.
Local authorities issued an emergency order banning people from gathering in the area in a bid to prevent further violence, and the authorities also called on bystanders and people who recorded images of the riots to send the footage to the police for further investigation.
Police tweeted that rioters started fires and threw fireworks during the rioting and authorities closed the city's main railway station.
The several hundred people had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a 'corona pass' showing they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection.
The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated but have proof of a negative test.
'This is a very serious situation which requires action with the highest priority,' said the emergency order by the Rotterdam municipality. 'It is, therefore, necessary to issue this emergency order so as to maintain public order and to protect the safety of persons.'