THE HAGUE – A Pegida demonstration has erupted into chaos when protesters clashed with counter-protesters on Sunday. More than fifty people have been arrested when counter-protesters refused to relocate, the NOS reports.
Pegida protesters walked to Binnenhof when their march was disrupted by the Dutch Antifascist Action (AFA), a radical left-wing group known for organising protests without explicit police permission. The police managed to prevent violent clashes, but when the AFA refused to leave the area, all 54 people present were arrested on account of public disorder.
Last Sunday’s demonstration was the 2016’s first large Pegida event in The Hague. Their protests usually attract a lot of attention, but tend to remain peaceful. Police presence on Sunday was increased heavily, however, after a fake bomb threat at a previous Pegida demonstration in Amsterdam.
Pegida in The Hague also received a bomb threat earlier that day. The bomb was allegedly hidden in a fast food restaurant. The police surrounded around snack bars in the city centre and searched patrons.
Pegida is known for its anti-immigrant language and thus tends to attract counter-protests. Edwin Wageveld, the leader of Pegida Netherlands, said in a speech to his followers: ‘The elite in Brussels and The Hague want to flood this country with refugees. It is time the people of the Netherlands speak up.”
When asked by IM International whether he expected any trouble with the AFA, he pointed at the toothbrush in his shirt pocket. ‘We want a peaceful demonstration, but let them come,’ he said. ‘As you can see, I am ready to be arrested for my ideals.’
The first counter-protester was arrested before the Pegida event had even started. The police officers present refused to answer questions concerning the arrest. From then on, the protest remained peaceful until the two groups clashed near Binnenhof.
When they refused to leave, the police formed a circle around the people present. The situation calmed down soon when Pegida marched further. While waiting for police vans to arrive, members of the Antifascist action started playing the guitar and exchanging phone numbers.
Not all counter-protesters intended to disturb the march. ‘We always bring a Spongebob flag to Pegida protests instead of fighting them. Love beats violence every time,’ a young activist who wishes to remain anonymous told IM International earlier that day. When the police asked him leave, he asked journalists to come along. ‘There will probably be some nice pictures of the arrest in it for you,’ he said.
Among those arrested were people not affiliated with the AFA. Some tourists were mistaken for protesters and got caught up in the ruckus. IMI journalist Marijke also got encircled by the police, but was freed later without any charges. ‘I was taking pictures, and I must have been about two meters too close to the arrests,’ she said later. ‘It was pretty scary at first, but the police were very professional, I met some interesting people. It was quite the experience!’