Tens of thousands are protesting in Belgium against lockdown measures

BRUSSELS (AP) – Tens of thousands of people demonstrated through central Brussels on Sunday to protest against intensified COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter the recent rise in coronavirus cases.

Many among the police estimate of 35,000 for the meeting had already traveled home when the demonstration turned violent as hundreds of people began throwing over the police, smashing cars and setting garbage cans on fire. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons and sought to restore order when dusk sank in the Belgian capital.

– We have injuries, but we can not yet say how many, says police spokeswoman Ilse Vande Keere. It was also unclear how many people were detained.

Earlier, marchers came to protest the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated and any steps to impose mandatory shots.

Shouts “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and sang the anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao”, protesters lined up behind a giant banner that read “Together for Freedom” and marched to EU headquarters. In the midst of the crowd, the signs ranged from right-wing extremist insignia to the rainbow flag of the LGBT community.

The World Health Organization said last week that Europe was the hotspot of the pandemic right now, the only region where COVID-19 deaths rose. The autumn wave of infections is overwhelming hospitals in many Central and Eastern European nations, including Ukraine, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In recent days, there have been many anti-vaccination marches in European nations, while one government after another has tightened measures. Dutch police arrested more than 30 people during riots in The Hague and other cities in the Netherlands on Saturday after much worse violence the night before.

Austria enters a 10-day national lockdown on Monday for all its population, after first imposing a lockdown on the unvaccinated. Christmas markets in Vienna were packed on Sunday with both locals and tourists taking in the holiday attractions before shops and food stalls had to close.

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