Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday to oppose coronavirus restrictions, despite the Belgian government choosing to endure new measures last week and warnings of rising incidents.
Unmasked protesters calling for “freedom” and “freedom” say they want the government to abolish the COVID certificate required to enter different places and that the Belgian Scientific Advisory Council is considering a wider range of perspectives in decision-making .
The organizers estimated that around 25,000 took part, while the police mentioned a number closer to 5,000 – a large drop in participation from the around 35,000 people who took part in a protest last November that turned violent.
Sunday’s demonstration was the latest organized by the group “Samen Voor Vrijheid”, meaning Together for Freedom, since the riots at the protest on November 21, and was especially more peaceful. The umbrella organization Together for Freedom brings together smaller groups, including Virus Madness, Fight For Freedom, The Human Side and Belgians for Freedom.
The march began at Brussels’ Gare du Nord train station and ended around the Parc du Cinquantenaire, where police at one point faced several protesters setting off fireworks, but the confrontation was quickly interrupted. Officers had confiscated fireworks and helmets from some participants at the start of the protest to avoid clashes from last year. Police later reported several arrests near the Parc du Cinquantenaire, just before noon
The demonstration attracted a wide range of participants, from families with young children to beer-swallowing young people as well as EU politicians.
“We are asking for our rights, freedom and our freedom back,” MEP Cristian Terheș of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group told POLITICO as he led a contingent of other Romanians.
“What’s happening right now across Europe is an indescribable abuse that we have not seen, at least in the West, since World War II,” he said.
Although Belgian officials refrained from introducing new measures last Thursday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned that “the coming weeks will be difficult” and expected to see new record levels of infections: “The numbers are rising and the situation will get worse before then. getting better.”
Ezra Armakye, a lead organizer of Together for Freedom, argued that Belgium’s rules on the use of COVID passports in bars, restaurants and sports and fitness centers only serve to “stimulate separation” among citizens.
Gaetan Cantimeau, a 46-year-old cardiologist from Charleroi, said the main reason he decided to protest was to show support for “preserving our freedom in public space.”
Olivier Gosselet, a 47-year-old IT engineer in Brussels who took part in the demonstration with his young daughter, said he was skeptical of the direction Europe is heading in terms of vaccination programs.
“I am against mass vaccination because I think there are other solutions to the pandemic,” he said.
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