Cities urge people to stay home on Dutch king's birthday

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A mother and her daughter, flashing a thumbs up and wearing an orange King's robe and the Dutch flag, ride along Prinsengracht canal on King's Day in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. The Dutch were celebrating their king's birthday Tuesday in muted fashion as a coronavirus lockdown prevented large-scale street parties for the second year running. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM – Crowds gathered in cities across the Netherlands on Tuesday despite authorities urging people to stick to coronavirus social distancing regulations as the country marked the King's Day national holiday.

This year, the celebrations for King Willem-Alexander's birthday came as lockdown fatigue is rising and a day before an easing of some restrictions even though hospitals are having to postpone regular medical procedures so they can focus on the high level of COVID-19 patients.

Even so, clear blue skies and warm weather sent people crowding into city parks and prompted authorities to tell them to go home and urge others to stay away.

Many did not pay attention. In scenes reminiscent of King’s Day celebrations before the pandemic, some canal-side streets near Amsterdam’s historic Westerkerk church were packed with mostly young revelers singing and drinking Tuesday evening. Police eventually broke up the gathering when some party-goers started to fight each other.

Amsterdam's municipal authorities shut off access to two of the city's main parks by early afternoon and urged people to stay away from the Dutch capital, saying it was too busy. Two other major cities, Utrecht and Rotterdam, tweeted out similar messages in the afternoon.

In the central city of Arnhem, hundreds packed into a central market square for a demonstration against the government and lockdown measures, prompting city officials to urge people to stay away as the area was full.

The protesters marched through the city chanting slogans including “We are the Netherlands” and “Love, freedom, no dictatorship!” as scores of police monitored the demonstration, which remained peaceful and ended with organizers thanking police and the city's mayor.

King Willem-Alexander marked his 54th birthday in Eindhoven, a southern city that brands itself as a hub for high-tech innovation, with a largely digital version of the annual royal walkabout.