Arrests and arson during Eritrean festival riots in The Hague

The remains of a police car outside the centre. Photo: Robin Utrecht ANP

Four police officers were injured and several people arrested in rioting in The Hague on Saturday night, after fighting broke out between rival groups during a meeting of the Eritrean community.

“Our colleagues were confronted with very serious violence which erupted out of nothing,” local police chief Mariëlle van Vulpen said told broadcaster NOS. “This is unacceptable.”

The meeting had been organised by pro-government Eritreans at the Opera business centre, although the centre described it as a New Year’s party. Opponents of the regime then turned up and the fighting broke out. 

Some carried sticks, others threw paving stones and set cars and a coach on fire, reported. Eyewitnesses said the area was like a battleground. One woman told that the rioters had been filling bottles with petrol at a nearby petrol station to make Molotov cocktails. 

The windows of several houses were broken and concrete flower pots were smashed. The road was strewn with broken glass and stones. 

City mayor Jan van Zanen described the rioting as “disgusting and unacceptable”.

He said tensions in the community were well-known and that security had been upgraded for the event. “We had received several reports about youngsters from the ‘Brigade Nhamedu’ looking for trouble,” he said. He also gave the green light for the police to use tear gas.

The Brigade Nhamedu, formed in 2022, is opposed to the authoritarian Eritrean regime and is thought to have been behind trouble at events held by the Eritrean community in Sweden, Canada and the US, according to the Guardian last year. 

Community spokeswoman Myra Koomen told NOS between 500 and 600 people had gone to Saturday’s event. 

Acting justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz said in a statement that the events in The Hague were “completely unacceptable”. “Attacking emergency service workers who are simply doing their jobs is totally out of order and there will be consequences. 

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