Police break up protest at anti-squat bill

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Police say they have arrested a hundred demonstrators outside parliament who were protesting at new legislation to outlaw squatting.

During the debate on the bill in parliament yesterday, angry squatters disrupted the proceedings. When the bill was carried by a majority of MPs, protestors in the public gallery stood up and chanted “Squatting will go on”. Speaker Gerdi Verbeet had them removed.

The protesting squatters set up camp out outside the parliament building, and there were minor clashes with police. Late on Thursday evening the police decided to clear the area. Demonstrators who refused to follow police orders were arrested. They are being held for questioning during the course of the day on Friday. Witnesses say the riot police used batons to clear the demonstrators, news agency ANP reports.

The anti-squatting bill is an initiative by MPs from two coalition parties, the Christian Democrats and Christian Union, and the conservative opposition party, the VVD. The second-largest member of the ruling coalition, the Labour Party, is against the new legislation. Consequently the bill relied for support on the rightwing opposition Freedom Party, headed by anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders. The Freedom Party only agreed to back the bill when the proposed minimum sentences for squatting had been raised.

At present squatters of buildings that have been empty for more than a year are not prosecuted. To be charged with breaking into a building, squatters have to be caught in the act. However, the days of legal squatting in the Netherlands now appear to be over. Under the new legislation, convicted squatters face a one-year jail term.

Opponents claim that squatting helps maintain social housing, combats speculation, stimulates cultural initiatives and protects historic buildings. Their last hope is that the bill will be blocked by the Upper House.