WorldClashes in Brussels during a demonstration against health measures

Clashes in Brussels during a demonstration against health measures

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The tension was at its height on Sunday in the streets of the city symbol of Europe. Clashes opposed the police and opponents of health restrictions in Brussels to fight against Covid-19. According to the authorities, around 50,000 people marched, some from other European countries.

This is the biggest protest in the city in recent months. The clashes erupted near the headquarters of the European Union. Police used water cannons and tear gas to repel protesters who were throwing cobblestones and firecrackers. A little later, police officers, bombarded with metal barriers, took refuge in a metro station.

About 70 arrests

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has condemned the “senseless destruction and violence” after masked assailants smashed a glass door at the EU foreign affairs headquarters. According to the police, around 70 people were arrested, including a dozen for offenses such as throwing projectiles and damaging property. Three officers and 12 protesters were hospitalized, but none whose life would be in danger.

“Freedom of expression is one of the foundations of our society. Everyone is free to express their opinion,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “But our society will never accept indiscriminate violence, let alone towards our police forces. Those involved this Sunday will be prosecuted”, he added, while the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, deplored a “difficult day” and “the physical attacks of which the police were victims”.

A European procession

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Demonstrations against the health certificate have been taking place regularly for several weeks in the Belgian capital. Some of the previous rallies had already been marked by clashes. Organizers, including the World Wide Demonstration for Freedom and Europeans United for Freedom movements, had invited protesters from other European countries to participate on Sunday. Dutch, Polish, French and Romanian flags were thus visible in the procession.

The protest comes as some governments move towards lifting some health restrictions, despite Omicron’s persistence. This variant is also now dominant in the European Union and in the European Economic Area, the European health agency announced on Friday.

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Last week, more than 60,000 people were infected every day in Belgium, a wave described as a “tsunami” by the authorities. But the less deleterious effects of the Omicron variant and a high rate of vaccination have allowed the health system to be less under pressure than during previous waves. In this context, the Prime Minister announced on Friday that restaurants and bars could extend their opening hours.

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