Protesters, police clash over Dutch ban on squatters
AMSTERDAM — More than 100 people protesting the outlawing of squatting at unused buildings in the Netherlands clashed with police in Amsterdam’s historic center late yesterday, throwing stones, setting fires, and erecting barricades.
Squatting is the latest pillar of the country’s liberal institutions — such as legal prostitution and cafes that openly sell marijuana — to be abolished or curtailed as the Dutch become more conservative and rethink the boundaries of their famed tolerance.
In Amsterdam, the epicenter of the movement known in Dutch as “kraken,’’ or “breaking,’’ several hundred squatters had demonstrated peacefully during the day against the new law that makes their way of life punishable by up to one year in prison.
By nightfall, some began throwing rocks at police and vandalizing cars. Police attempted to disperse large groups on two streets by carrying out charges.
Squatters used metal fences and piles of bicycles to block one of the city’s bridges amid a haze of tear gas. Police used bulldozers and water cannons in an attempt to clear the streets lining the city’s ancient canals of such barricades, and to quenchfires set in rubbish piles.
A local television station broadcast a photo of one protester being escorted away by a police officer while bleeding from a head wound.
“Of course we’re going to resist — resisting is part of what we do,’’ said a young woman at a “squat,’’ or occupied building, next to the Amstel River. She identified herself only as Lilo.
Most squatters declined to give their full names both for philosophical reasons and to avoid trouble with authorities.
A study published this year by Amsterdam’s Free University estimated the number of squatters at 1,500 in the Dutch capital, a city of 750,000.
Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, says he plans to gradually empty the city’s remaining 200 squats.
Beginning yesterday, building owners can argue that squatters are breaking the law, the mayor said. That would “bring us to take action, where in the past we might not have done anything.’’
City officials said no major evictions were expected yesterday, however.
Amsterdam and other Dutch cities remain unusually liberal, even by European standards, but they have gradually moved away from their free-for-all attitudes. Prostitution is legal but has become more regulated, and Amsterdam has shuttered one-third of its brothels.
The number of marijuana cafes is declining amid new restrictions to distance them from schools.
Squatting gained public sympathy after World War II during a time of severe housing shortages and anger at real estate speculators. That view changed as the Netherlands grew more prosperous and more sympathetic to business.
These days most squatters are migrants from eastern and southern Europe “who want a cheap place to live,’’ said Frank van Dalen, an Amsterdam city councilor. Van Dalen is a member of the pro-business VVD party, which has been a vocal opponent of both squatting and immigration.
The VVD will lead the next Dutch coalition government, which may take office as early as next week. Backed by the anti-Islam Freedom Party of populist politician Geert Wilders, the new administration is likely to further tighten restrictions on immigration — particularly from Muslim countries.