Facebook party invite leads to riots in Dutch town

Mon, Sep 24, 2012, 01:00

THOUSANDS OF “revellers” descended on and trashed a small Dutch commuter town on Saturday night after a teenage girl innocently posted news of her 16th birthday party on Facebook – and the message went viral, reaching an estimated 30,000 people.

There were 34 arrests and scores were taken to hospital, many of them with injuries from flying glass, after the uninvited party-goers tried to break through a cordon of 500 police, including 250 riot police, who closed off the street to the girl’s home in leafy Haren, 150km (93 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.

At least one car was set on fire, the local Albert Heijn supermarket was broken into and looted, dozens of business premises had their windows broken, street furniture was damaged, and the police fought running battles with rioters before order was restored early on Sunday morning.

Even then, the local railway station was ransacked when gangs of youths, finding themselves stranded after train services ended for the night, smashed windows using fire extinguishers, bricks, bottles and even bicycles.

At one point tear gas was used to break up the crowds, local police chief Oscar Dros confirmed. “All this trouble and destruction was not caused by schoolchildren, it was caused by organised troublemakers – and it lived up to our worst-case scenario,” he said.

It emerged yesterday that the girl, named only as Merthe, had gone into hiding with her family after cancelling the party – when the local authority advised them that a plan to distract the descending hoards with a free gig nearby was being abandoned because of fears for public safety.

“Beware, news of this party spread from person to person like wildfire across the internet,” said Rob Bats, mayor of Haren, a normally quiet town with a population of about 18,000. “In the end at least 3,000 people arrived. An innocent invitation on Facebook led to rioting, destruction, arson and serious injuries in the middle of our town. It attracted scum who ran amok. They were well prepared, very violent and arrived looking for trouble.”

Fifteen-year-old Merthe’s invitation to her close friends was posted just over a week ago, but by last Tuesday had already gone viral, forcing her parents to alert the police and ask for help.

It sparked a rash of spoof videos, T-shirts, YouTube postings and tweets, and the party rapidly gained notoriety as “Project X Haren” – after a US film released earlier this year named Project X, about a suburban party that gets out of hand.

“Project X Haren” T-shirts, jumpers and jackets featuring a crude logo of a man on all fours with a bottle to his lips have been selling online for prices starting from €23. Police may now investigate who was promoting them. They also plan to examine local video footage.

As the extent of the damage to the town became clear yesterday, a new Facebook page was created called “Project Clean-X Haren”, urging local volunteers to help with the clean-up. By lunchtime yesterday it had attracted more than 25,000 “likes”.