Thousands again protest in Belgium over coronavirus rules

Thousands of protesters took to the streets again in Brussels on Sunday to defend themselves against coronavirus restrictions, despite the Belgian government’s decision last week to withhold new measures and warn of rising cases.

Unmasked protesters calling for “freedom” and “freedom” are demanding that the government abolish the COVID certificate required to gain access to various locations and that Belgium’s Scientific Advisory Board consider more perspectives in decision-making.

Organizers estimated that around 25,000 attended, while police cited a number closer to 5,000 – a significant drop in attendance from the 35,000 or so people who took part in a violent protest last November.

The demonstration on Sunday was the last organized by the group “Samen Voor Vrijheid”, which means “Together for Freedom”, since the riots on November 21st and was much more peaceful. The umbrella organization Together for Freedom brings together smaller groups such as 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 Parc du Cinquantenaire, where police intermittently faced several protesters who set off fireworks, but the confrontation was quickly put down. Officials had confiscated firecrackers and helmets from some of the participants at the start of the protest to avoid clashes that had been observed last year. Police later reported several arrests near the Parc du Cinquantenaire just before 5 p.m.

The demonstration drew a wide range of participants, from families with young children to beer-swallowing teenagers and EU politicians.

Firefighters joined the protest in Brussels | Samuel Stolton / POLITICO

“We are demanding back our rights, freedom and our freedom,” said MEP Cristian Terheș from the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists to POLITICO when he was leading a contingent of Romanian compatriots.

“What is happening across Europe right now 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 imposing new measures last Thursday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned that “the coming weeks will be difficult” and expected new record numbers of infections: “The numbers will rise and the situation will get worse before it will better.”

Ezra Armakye, a senior organizer of Together for Freedom, argued that Belgium’s rules for using COVID passports in bars, restaurants, and sports and fitness centers were only intended to promote segregation between citizens.

Gaetan Cantimeau, a 46-year-old cardiologist from Charleroi, said the main reason for his protest was his support for “maintaining our freedom in public spaces”.

Olivier Gosselet, a 47-year-old IT engineer in Brussels who attended the demonstration with his young daughter, said he was skeptical about the direction of Europe on vaccination programs.

“I am against mass vaccination because I believe there are other solutions to the pandemic,” he said.

Thousands again protest in Belgium over coronavirus rules 1
The march started at Gare du Nord in Brussels and ended at Parc du Cinquantenaire | Samuel Stolton / POLITICO

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