Police, officials failed in ‘Project X’ riot, probe finds

AFP, THE HAGUE

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 - Page 6

Police and the mayor of a sleepy Dutch town “failed” in their handling of a riot triggered when thousands attended a party after receiving a Facebook invitation meant to be private, a probe found on Friday.

About 4,000 revelers descended onto the northern town of Haren in September after a local girl accidentally posted a public invitation for her 16th birthday party on the social network.

The soiree descended into chaos, with partygoers pelting police officers with rocks, bottles, flower pots and even bicycles, shops looted and chairs set on fire throughout the night.

“Right from the start authorities had no grip on the problem, there was no clear strategy to deal with it and what they did was insufficient,” said Job Cohen, who chaired a five-person commission to investigate the so-called “Project X” riots.

Haren Mayor Rob Bats “did not make proper use of his competency to use all means at his disposal” to control the rampaging youths, many of whom traveled by train to converge on the quiet neighborhood, he added.

“If this was a test for the police, you would have to come to the conclusion that they failed,” Cohen said.

By the end of the night of violence, at least 29 people had been hurt — including three officers — 108 were subsequently arrested and damages ran into hundreds of thousands of euros.

Images of bonfires and blood streaming from the heads of youths after running battles with riot police shocked the Netherlands, better known for its tolerance and non-violent culture.

Youths had started arriving in Haren early in the afternoon, many of them carrying alcohol and some drugs, Cohen said.

Officials had prepared for trouble by blocking access to the girl’s street, banning alcohol consumption near her home and having the teenager herself quit the premises.

However, riot police had to intervene when a couple of hundred drunken youths tried to get into the street.

After pelting the police with missiles as they tried to force their way into the street, groups of rioters moved on to the center of the town, where they wrecked cars, fencing, street lamps and signs.

Some of the partygoers wore T-shirts bearing the words “Project X Haren,” an allusion to last year’s US teen film Project X — about a suburban birthday party that gets out of control after an invitation goes viral.