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Belgian police stop ‘freedom convoy’ in Brussels

Demonstration of anti-vaccines through the streets of Brussels. / EFE

The European capital shielded itself against the arrival of between “400 or 500 vehicles” of the anti-vaccine caravan arriving from Paris

The Belgian capital did not want this Monday to repeat the scenes of violence that were seen in Paris last Saturday when the “freedom convoys” passed and, from the first hour, the security forces shielded the city. Demonstrators called for a “lockdown” of Brussels to protest health restrictions, but their threat was diluted by a heavy police presence.

Last Sunday, the French police identified about 1,300 vehicles from this caravan near the Belgian border that seemed to be heading to Brussels. As a dissuasive measure, the Belgian authorities yesterday decided to close the E40 motorway, one of the main highways to the capital, which caused traffic jams early in the day. Police controls were also established, “in which some thirty vehicles of the 400 or 500 that were part of the caravan were intercepted,” the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, confirmed in an interview on local radio.

The bulk of the convoy was directed to parking lot C in Heysel, where some 80 vehicles were concentrated. From there, the protesters, most of them French and Belgian, had to “negotiate a route on foot with the police,” Close said, stressing the importance of “not taking the capital hostage.”

However, the caravan turned out to be “smaller than expected” and was far from the thousands of people who gathered in the French capital. The convoy dispersed to different parts of the city and one of the groups tried to reach the European zone, where the main community institutions are concentrated. There they were met by security forces, who blocked access with vans, riot police and barbed wire fences.

Some of the demonstrators shouted slogans of “freedom” and “general amnesty” in front of the agents. “The police must be with the citizens!” shouted a man carrying the Belgian flag, and who received applause from the rest of the protesters. Meanwhile, a police helicopter flew over the area to monitor the movements of the protesters. Fear of possible police intervention caused the group to finally disperse.

Riot Charge

Shortly before, around 12:00, the police reported a small group of the ‘liberty convoy’ on rue de la Loi. There the agents preventively arrested several people for possession of weapons. The detainees carried two knives – prohibited weapons in the city –, protective glasses and black balaclavas. Although their relationship with the caravan was not established, according to the security forces, the individuals intended to participate in possible disturbances during the protests.

Another of the hot spots was Sainte-Catherine square, in the center of the city, where a group of between 100 and 200 people gathered, according to police figures. The protesters carried banners against the covid passport and messages about the freedoms lost during the pandemic. Some were satisfied with the mobilization, while others hoped that it would grow through an appeal made on social networks. However, the intervention of the anti-riot units put an end to the protest, which dispersed throughout the afternoon.

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