According to the authorities, around 50,000 people marched in the Belgian capital, including 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 (EU). 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.
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, condemned the
senseless destruction and violence after masked assailants smashed a glass door at 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 police officers and 12 demonstrators were hospitalized, but none of them were in danger.
Freedom of expression is one of the foundations of our society. Everyone is free to express their opinion., Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement.
But our society will never accept indiscriminate violence and even less towards our police forces. Those involved this Sunday will be prosecuted, he added, while the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, deplored in a tweet a
hard day and
the physical attacks that the police have suffered.
Demonstrations against the health certificate – required to access restaurants and cultural activities, in particular – have been taking place regularly for several weeks in the Belgian capital. Some of the previous rallies had already been marked by clashes with the police.
The organizers, including the movements World Wide Demonstration for Freedom and Europeans United for Freedom, had invited protesters from other European countries to participate on Sunday. Dutch, Polish, French and Romanian flags were visible in the procession.
What has happened since 2020 has made people wake up, said Francesca Fanara, who came from Lille, in the north of France. castigating
a health dictatorship, Adolfo Barbosa, who arrived from Portugal, said that
it warms[ait] the heart to see these people here.
This protest comes as some governments move towards lifting some health restrictions, despite the persistence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is causing a record number of contaminations.
Omicron is now dominant in the European Union and the European Economic Area, the European health agency announced on Friday.
Last week, more than 60,000 people were infected every day in Belgium, a wave that the authorities described as
tsunami. But the less deleterious effects of the Omicron variant and a high rate of vaccination allowed the health system to be less under pressure than in previous waves.
In this context, the Prime Minister announced on Friday that restaurants and bars could extend their opening hours. Nightclubs will remain closed.
In neighboring France, the government announced Thursday evening the lifting, during February, of most of the restrictions imposed to curb the epidemic.