Pro Piet highway blockade demonstrators to appear in court in October

Greetings card showing Sinterklaas with Zwarte Piet in silhouette.

The trial of 34 people involved in blocking a motorway to prevent anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrators reaching the Frisian town of Dokkum will take place in October, judges said at a pre-trial hearing on Friday. The public prosecution department says the Piet supporters put road safety at risk by blocking off the motorway with cars and other vehicles. In addition, they prevented others from making use of their legal right to demonstrate, the department said. The 34 people, aged between 20 and 16, stopped buses carrying some 120 demonstrators by braking in front of them on the highway, forcing all traffic to a halt. The action led to the demonstration being cancelled by the mayor on public order grounds even though the demonstrators had been given a licence to protest during the arrival of Sinterklaas. No-one was arrested during the stand-off.  More >

Local council executives get bigger

Local councils in the Netherlands are expanding their executive boards - there are now 10% more alderman than there were after the local elections in 2010, according to research by the AD. Most local councils have now put together new administrations since the March vote and the number of aldermen has gone up to 1,144. The main reason for the increase, the AD says, is that there are more political parties fighting for votes and coalitions are getting bigger. In Rotterdam, for example, six parties have formed a coalition and the number of aldermen has doubled from five to 10. In Barendrecht, where the coalition grew from three to six parties, each party has an alderman, although some will work part-time. Alderman earn from €64,000 to €137,000 a year, depending on the size of the local authority. Pensions and expenses come on top of that, and aldermen who lose their jobs are entitled to a generous form of unemployment benefit for up to three years. In total, the wage bill will rise by tens of millions of euros, the AD said. Research by the NRC, also published on Friday, shows that men still dominate when it comes to the job of alderman. However, Appingedam in Groningen and Gemert-Bakel in Brabant have an exclusively all-women line-up. By contrast, 94 of the 305 local authorities assessed by the paper have only men on the executive board. GroenLinks is the clear leader in terms of female aldermen, with 48 out of 87. The fundamentalist Protestant group SGP, which believes women should keep out of politics, has 27 alderman, all of whom are male.  More >

Sand sculpture takes over The Hague heart

A British man who has lived in Amsterdam for 20 years has won top prize in the first world sand sculpting championship ever held in the Netherlands. The 33 ton sculpture entitled 'The road from Scheveningen', is a pastiche of a famous American installation named the The Flying Steamroller and took some 10 days to create. In total, nine of the best internationally renowned sand artists in the world took over the centre of The Hague and created pieces in line with the theme '200 years of sea, sand and…'. The competition was organised to celebrate 200 years of Scheveningen as a beach resort. The artists used a total of 380 tons of sand (equivalent to some12 truck loads) to create nine large pieces, some of them up to five meters high. 'This time, we presented the works in a special location – the city centre – making it an attraction to the inhabitants and tourists,' said Marcel Elsjan, one of the organisers. 'This year we also collaborated with lighting artists who created spectacular settings for the sculptures and the whole venue.' River sand Sand sculpting is an art form that only uses sand and water, allowing the artists to create sculptures within a reasonably short time. River sand is the best material for sand sculpting due to its angular grains, and mixed with a fraction of silt and clay. The best sand for sculpting in the Netherlands comes from near Nijmegen. 'Scheveningen was the place I first started sand sculpting and now, 20 years later, my ambition is to help bring sand sculpture into a contemporary art forum,' said Baldrick Buckle (46), the new world champion, who originally comes from Leeds, and was awarded his prize on Wednesday. Second place went to Japan sand artist Katsu Chaen and third place to Thomas Koet from the US. The piece by Dutchman Maxim Gazendam was not included in the competition, because the Netherlands is the host nation. The sand sculptures are on show on the Lange Voorhout in The Hague until August 18.  More >

DNA data bank is missing 21,000 profiles

The dna profiles of some 21,000 people convicted of serious crimes are not included in the national crime dna bank, according to research by current affairs programme Nieuwsuur. Since 2005, everyone convicted of a crime punishable by four years or more in jail in the Netherlands must give a dna sample after their conviction. This is kept on the data base for 20 years. The situation has worsened considerably since 2016, when the failure to collect dna samples was last in the public eye and 10,000 people were said to be missing from the data bank. ‘People who are convicted of one crime have often offended more than once,’ law psychologist Peter van Koppen told Nieuwsuur. ‘That means that if you have their dna, you have a greater chance of solving other crimes.’ One of the reasons so many people are not included in the data bank is that they failed to show up for an appointment to have their dna taken Nevertheless, the dna bank has the details of more than 200,000 people, plus unknown samples taken at crime scenes. Samples Van Koppen said the problem could be solved if dna samples were taken when a suspect is arrested, alongside finger prints and a photo. If the person is convicted, the sample would then be sent to the data bank. However, that will require a change in the law. The justice ministry said in a reaction to the report that all organisations involved in dealing with crime are involved in trying to improve the situation. Officials are currently analysing the new figures, the ministry said.  More >

Warm spring brings mosquito plague

The hot spring and the heavy rains of recent weeks mean mosquitoes have been hatching earlier than normal, according to researchers at Wageningen University. The first generation of new mosquitoes usually get to work around the end of June, but the warm weather meant they were already biting at the end of May. Now the second generation is about to emerge, says Arnold van Vliet of the university's mosquito radar website It normally takes 28 days for a mosquito to grow from egg to fully-flown, but high temperatures speed up the process, Van Vliet said, adding that the early start to the mosquito season means we could be faced with two extra generations this summer. The problem would be solved by a long period with no rain so that the breeding pools dry up, he said. In the meantime, people with gardens should empty pots of water and check for larvae every two weeks. 'That makes an enormous difference when you consider that a liter of water can be home to a couple of hundred mosquito larvae,' he told broadcaster NOS.   More >