Mark Rutte has come under fire from his coalition partners for saying he wanted to ‘beat up’ people who attacked emergency services workers on New Year’s Eve.
The prime minister was asked at his weekly press conference on Friday if he was considering tougher sentences to protect police, ambulance workers and fire crews on one of the busiest nights of the year. ‘Ideally I’d like to beat these people up, but you can’t do that,’ he replied.
The comments were described as ‘unworthy of a prime minister’ by Gert-Jan Segers, leader of the ChristenUnie (CU), the smallest party in the four-way coalition. ‘Sometimes you have to suppress your emotions and do the right thing.’
Segers also called on Rutte and his right-wing VVD party to back calls for tighter restrictions on fireworks at New Year, such as a restriction on ‘bangers’ (knalvuurwerk). ‘If you really want to do something, don’t just use words but go a step further,’ he said.
Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma also said Rutte should concentrate on ‘making sure police and emergency services staff are protected… and not insinuate that people can settle scores themselves.’
Police union ACP was also critical of the prime minster’s blunt language. ‘It doesn’t make the problem any smaller,’ said chairman Gerrit van de Kamp. ‘ What would help is if he agrees to a nationwide ban on firework sales.’
In total 328 people were arrested during the night of New Year’s Eve and there were 59 attacks on police officers, according to official figures. Emergency services were called out more than 3,000 times, a 50% rise.
Rutte declined to apologise for his comments when they were raised during an hour-long interview on TV show Buitenhof on Sunday. ‘I felt the emotion,’ he said. ‘I think that people in the street will get it because they feel it too.’
Several commentators noted that the remarks were consistent with Rutte’s tendency to be more plain speaking in the run-up to elections. The next elections to the provincial assemblies are being held in March and will determine the make-up of the senate for the next four years. Opinion polls suggest the coalition will lose its majority in the upper house.
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