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BRUSSELS: Belgian police used water cannons and tear gas on Sunday to disperse protesters protesting mandatory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
About 8,000 people marched through Brussels to the EU headquarters and chanted “Freedom!” Slogan. And the fireworks are going off.
The crowd was less than the 35,000 vaccine and lockdown skeptics who marched last month, and the police were better prepared.
Protesters were blocked from reaching the roundabout outside the EU headquarters, by a barbed wire fence and a line of riot officers.
As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, they threw fireworks and cans of beer. The police used water cannons and tear gas shells.
As the crowd dispersed into small groups around the European Quarter, there were more clashes and some set fire to garbage barricades.
Police said two of their officers and four protesters have been hospitalized and 20 people have been arrested.
Several European countries have seen demonstrations in recent weeks as governments respond to a surge in Covid cases with tighter restrictions.
In Brussels, organizers were expected to match a November 21 demo, which police thought was on guard and led to violent clashes.
Protesters oppose mandatory health measures – such as masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes – and share some conspiracy theories.
Banners on Sunday compared the stigma of non-vaccination to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany forcing them to wear yellow stars.
“Covid = organized genocide,” said one sign. “The QR code is a swastika,” declared another, referring to the EU’s COVID Secure Digital Certificate.
The parents – some of whom brought up young children in protest – chanted their belief that the vaccine would make their children sick.
Off-duty firefighters in uniform wound their way through town at the head of the protest, demanding the right to refuse vaccination.
The measures put in place to fight Covid in Belgium were set by the country’s own national and regional governments, but the European Union has also attracted the ire of skeptics.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she thought it was time to “think about compulsory vaccination”, a suggestion that was denounced by speakers at the protest.
On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Cru announced a slew of measures to tighten hygiene rules, pushing the school Christmas holiday ahead and asking children aged six years and older to wear masks.
Belgium, with a population of 11 million, has recorded an average of more than 17,800 daily infections with Covid-19 over the past seven days, as well as 44 deaths.
About 800 people with severe forms of the disease are in intensive care in hospitals across the country, leading to overcrowding and postponing treatment for many other conditions.