Brussels police fire water cannon and tear gas during COVID-19 containment protests

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© Reuters. Police officers stand guard during a demonstration against restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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Johnny Cotton

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Brussels police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters near the European Commission headquarters on Sunday after protests involving some 50,000 people against COVID-19 restrictions turned violent.

Despite the record number of infections in Belgium announcing a slight easing of coronavirus restrictions on Friday, the government also said people would have to get booster shots after five months to maintain the COVID-19 passes that allow them to enter bars or cinemas.

Anyone wishing to enter restaurants, museums or many other public places must have a pass, sparking a backlash from some Belgians.

In scenes reminiscent of similar clashes last November, around 35,000 protesters took part in demonstrations that began peacefully but turned violent, with some streets in the Belgian capital soon filling with acrid tear gas.

A Reuters witness said buildings housing European diplomatic offices and a sandwich shop were broken into.

Some protesters set off fireworks and police stationed in a nearby park, where large numbers of demonstrators gathered, and water cannons surrounded police in body armor, helmets and riot shields.

A demonstrator on stage asked others to raise their hands, signaling that the protesters would not give up.

Caroline van Landuyt said: “I am outraged by the blackmail that the government is doing, mainly against young people, but against everyone, but mainly against young people, they are really blackmailing everyone to have to get vaccinated,” she said. She herself has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Belgium is in the midst of a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, which is not expected to peak for at least a few weeks. About 89% of adults in Belgium are fully vaccinated, and 67% are now on booster shots.

“I’m mad that my kids have to get vaccinated. They want to travel, they want to play sports, they can’t do it without the vaccine, but they don’t want to, it’s just extortion,” she added.

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