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Muted celebrations of Dutch king's birthday amid pandemic



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AP
Amsterdam, Apr. 28 : The Dutch celebrated their king's birthday Tuesday in muted fashion as a coronavirus lockdown prevented large-scale street parties for the second year running, but in some places people could not resist the temptation to gather outdoors in warm spring weather.
 
Amsterdam municipality shut off access to a park by early afternoon and urged people to stay away from the Dutch capital, saying it was too busy. Amsterdam police also said they broke up several parties overnight.
Herman Slim and a group of friends visited from the nearby town of Alkmaar.
 
"For this day we rented scooters and we are making a tour in Amsterdam. That's nice," he said.
 
This year, the national holiday comes with lockdown fatigue 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.
 
King Willem-Alexander marked his 54th birthday in the southern city of Eindhoven, a city that brands itself as a hub for high-tech innovation, with a largely digital version of the annual royal walkabout.
 
The king, who publicly expressed regret, last year for going on a vacation in Greece during the pandemic, paid tribute to care workers unable to join festivities.
 
"Our hearts go out to the people who can't celebrate today," he said, adding that he hoped for "a normal King's Day next year."
 
The national holiday is usually an occasion for the Dutch to drape themselves in orange clothes, hats and feather boas, sell old toys and books in street markets and crowd the streets of major cities. This year, for the second straight year, authorities encouraged people to stay close to home. 
 
The capital, Amsterdam, urged residents to celebrate according to lockdown guidelines with a maximum of one visitor, but added "you can still dig out the orange T-shirt or silly hat and hang out the flag."
 
A man wearing an orange robe cycled down a near deserted street in the city, while people stood in socially distanced lines waiting to buy pastries topped with icing in the national color orange.
 
The central city of Arnhem, meanwhile, was bracing for possible violent confrontations between football hooligans and a protest against the government.
 
In an attempt to prevent rioting, the city's mayor, Ahmed Marcouch, gave police special powers for the day to check people coming into Arnhem and imposed a limit of 500 people for a demonstration at the central market place.
 
Marcouch said that demonstrations are a constitutional right, but that "signals of the risk of rioting at different locations in the city endanger that right to demonstrate."
 
On Wednesday, the national lockdown is being eased with measures including the end of a nationwide curfew imposed in mid-January and cafes allowed to reopen their outdoor terraces — under strict conditions — from noon to 6 p.m.