More than 1,500 climate activists have been arrested for blocking a major highway during a protest by the Extinction Rebellion climate group in The Hague, Dutch police said.
Police said they had used water cannon to disperse activists blocking a section of a motorway near the base of both the Dutch parliament and the prime minister’s offices on Saturday and arrested “a total of 1,579 people … 40 of whom will be prosecuted” on charges including vandalism.
The protest was called to denounce the impact of fossil fuel subsidies on the economy and environment. It was organized by Extinction Rebellion (XR), a group that originates in the UK and uses non-violent albeit disruptive protest methods to raise climate awareness.
According to Extinction Rebellion, 7,000 people gathered to join the demonstration, held for the seventh time.
“Climate change is an unfolding crisis and we know the cause and it’s still being subsidized by our government and it needs to stop,” protester Anne Kerevers told AFP news agency.
Several Dutch celebrities were among the protesters, including actor Carice van Houten, who posted a video on Instagram showing herself wearing a red poncho, getting drenched from a water cannon. The Dutch news agency ANP reported that she was arrested but later allowed to return home.
Extinction Rebellion accused police of using water cannon just 15 minutes after the start of the blockade – but police said they had asked the activists to leave and gave them a chance to do so before using the water cannon.
Verified video footage captured at the event showed the police used water cannons on the protesters for several hours and later managed to clear the road using police vans.
— Extinction Rebellion Den Haag (@XRTheHague) May 27, 2023
The 1,579 people who refused to leave were then arrested and many of them were lifted and carried onto buses. Some 850 demonstrators have already been released without charge. While some sustained minor injuries, the protest remained mostly peaceful. Also, police said that one of the activists bit a police officer during his arrest.
Anticipating the water cannon, some protesters wore raincoats or carried umbrellas to face the water cannon as they sat in protest across the motorway, holding banners and signs.
Aaron Pereira, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion, said that the group has organized six other protests blocking the same motorway. Protesting on this road is banned under rules brought in by the mayor.
“There is broad popular support for real climate action and people are waking up to the fact that the government is actively going against this by subsidizing the fossil fuel industry,” Pereira was quoted as saying.
On Friday, dozens of climate demonstrators gathered in Paris to raise their voices against an annual general meeting of oil company TotalEnergies. French police officers fired tear gas to disperse them.
In April, XR held a four-day campaign outside the UK parliament in order to “highlight the environmental failures” of the government.
The fossil fuel industry threatens global ecosystems and human livelihoods, and scientists have repeatedly warned of its catastrophic climate change effects.
Last month, the world’s leading climate scientists wrote in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that the climate time bomb was “ticking” as records for sea level rise, glacier melt, and temperatures were broken.
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