BRUSSELS – Thousands protest racism and police violence

More than 10,000 people outside of Brussels’ Palais de Justice protested racism and police brutality against people of colour in Belgium, despite COVID-19 lockdown measures still being in place over the weekend. While the main demonstration remained peaceful, incidents broke out in the Matonge district late Sunday afternoon.

Read also: Belgium to exit lockdown, return to ‘new normal’ on 8 June

Belgium is facing a racism debate of its own kind, with several statues of King Leopold II vandalized earlier this week, while a petition has been launched to request the removal of all the statues bearing the image of the Belgian king.

On Sunday (8 June), many protesters wore masks but social distancing was impossible because of the number of people present. Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said that although “the cause is just and everyone must be able to express itself”, she regretted that an alternative couldn’t be found to ensure compliance with health regulations.

The Mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, who had allowed the demonstration, pointed out that during this sanitary crisis, the balance between maintaining public order, the right to freedom of expression and protecting public health is “very delicate”.

“Like other world cities of Rome, London, Paris or even Madrid, Brussels, capital of more than 400 million Europeans, could not remain blind to the global emotion that arose at the death of George Floyd. The 10,000 participants, of which almost everyone wearing masks, have brought their message peacefully and quietly and tried to respect the sanitary rules as best as possible,” he wrote on Twitter.

But after the otherwise quiet demonstration there were also riots and looting in the Matongé district. Police later fired tear gas to disperse crowds. According to Belgian media reports, more than 150 people have been arrested.

(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

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