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Dutch PM condemns farmers’ protests at minister’s home

Dutch farmers were protesting against government plans to curb pollution (Aleksandar Furtula/AP)
Dutch farmers were protesting against government plans to curb pollution (Aleksandar Furtula/AP)

The Dutch prime minister has condemned a violent protest by farmers outside the home of the country’s agriculture minister amid increasingly bold demonstrations against the government’s plans to rein in pollution.

A small group of farmers clashed with police stationed outside the home of Christianne van der Wal, the Cabinet minister overseeing the Netherlands’ reforms to curb pollution, on Tuesday night.

They spread manure on a nearby street. At another protest, farmers attacked a police car. Several arrests were made.

Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark
Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged people to demonstrate ‘in a civilised way’ (Paul White/AP)

The violence capped a second day of protests that included torching bales of hay near roads and blocking highways across the country with slow-driving or parked tractors.

The protests resumed on Wednesday with dozens of tractors briefly blocking a highway close to the German border, traffic authorities said.

Christian Democrat lawmaker Derk Boswijk tweeted on Wednesday that he was staying at home after his family, including his four and seven-year-old children, “received a visit”.

He added: “This way of demonstrating serves no purpose. Stop it!”

“You can demonstrate, but in a civilised way,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said from a Nato summit in Madrid.

“So don’t block highways, don’t set off fireworks outside a minister’s house and spread manure and … scare two children, and endanger families.”

The Dutch national police chief also weighed in, saying officers had fined dozens of farmers in recent days and prevented more road blockades.

“The right to demonstrate is a great asset, but there are limits to it,” police commander Willem Woelders said.

“If there is a disturbance of public order or criminal offences are committed, we will take action.”

Police said they had arrested 10 protesters on Tuesday in the eastern Netherlands and charged them with offences ranging from public violence to attempted manslaughter.

“It is unacceptable how, in some places in our unit, police officers have been attacked and cornered,” Janny Knol, the police chief in the eastern Netherlands, said.

The Netherlands’ lucrative agricultural sector is protesting against a proposal, approved by lawmakers on Tuesday, to reduce emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and ammonia by 50% by 2030.

Dutch farmers gather for a demonstration at Stroe
Dutch farmers gather for a demonstration at Stroe (Aleksandar Furtula/AP)

Provincial governments were given a year to draw up ways of making the cuts, which are expected to include buying out some farms with livestock that produce large amounts of ammonia.

Farmers argue they are being unfairly targeted and shown little concern for their futures.

According to a national farm lobbying group, LTO, there are nearly 54,000 agricultural businesses in the Netherlands with exports totalling 94.5 billion euros (£81.7 billion) in 2019.

The protest at Ms Van der Wal’s home came on the eve of an announcement by the government that it planned to criminalise the practice, known as doxing, of publishing online personal details such as home addresses as a means of intimidation.

The legislation is part of a broader package of measures announced by the justice and security ministry that it says is intended to safeguard the freedom of the press.