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Netherlands hit by riots after man dies in police custody

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Dutch police conducted mass arrests overnight, detaining about 200 people for ignoring a ban on public assembly in a neighborhood hit by late-night rioting after the death of a man in police custody.

The arrests late Thursday and early Friday capped four nights of rioting in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in The Hague - a situation that has drawn comparisons with the angry protests that erupted in the United States following deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.

Hague Mayor Jozias van Aartsen, however, has strongly rejected such comparisons.

"There is absolutely nothing in common between the work of American police forces and the Dutch police and the Hague force," he told national broadcaster NOS this week.

Prosecutors investigating Sunday's death of Mitch Henriquez, a 42-year-old from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, say he likely died of oxygen starvation caused during his arrest at a music festival Saturday night. The five officers involved have been suspended from active duty and are being investigated as suspects in his death.

Protesters have gathered each night in the Schilderswijk neighborhood of The Hague, carrying banners protesting what they perceive as racism and the excessive use of force by police.

Henriquez's family, have said in comments reported in Dutch media that they do not believe he was a victim of racist policing. The have issued a call on social media for a silent march in his memory on Saturday and urged people to walk in peace from a railway station in The Hague to the park where he was arrested.

The Dutch National Ombudsman's office, which investigates disputes between citizens and government agencies, last year published a report following allegations of discriminatory policing in the Schilderswijk, a neighborhood of 60,000 people of 125 different nationalities.

The report, which called policing there "a mix of peacekeeping and crime fighting," found "no indication of structural abuses in the behavior of police" in Schilderswijk but said "police and citizens need to work to prevent escalation."

Dutch Justice Minister Ard van der Steur told reporters Friday that residents say troublemakers are pouring into the neighborhood to riot. He said the disorder has to stop.

"Of course, there is concern and anger at what possibly happened last weekend," Van der Steur said. "That is understandable. But this reaction is unacceptable."

Sinan Cankaya, an anthropologist who has studied racial profiling by the Amsterdam police, said that the Netherlands' long-standing image as a tolerant, multicultural society masks racism in areas like the job market and in night life. A Dutch man of Turkish descent, Cankaya said he was regularly barred from nightclubs that his white friends were allowed into.

"The idea of Dutch tolerance is part of the problem, because it blocks and hinders us Dutch from being self-critical and just facing the issue of racism in the Netherlands," he said.

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