Brussels police ordered to shut down far-right 'NatCons,' talks still ongoing

Brussels police ordered to shut down far-right 'NatCons,' talks still ongoing
Police outside the Claridge venue where 'NatCons' is taking place. Credit: The Brussels Times

Brussels police are taking steps to shut down the controversial National Conservative Conference ('NatCons') taking place at the Claridge venue hall in the Brussels municipality of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode on Tuesday, following an order from Mayor Emir Kir.

The conference of European conservative nationalists had previously been cancelled twice in just a few days, before the organisers found a host in the Claridge events room in Saint-Josse, near the European Quarter, late on Monday evening. The conference started at 08:00 on Tuesday, despite the lack of authorisation from the commune.

"The mayor has issued a police order that the conference cannot take place on the territory of Saint-Josse. The organisation of the venue owner have officially been informed that the event cannot continue," a spokesperson for the Brussels North police zone told The Brussels Times.

Around 13:00, the police were looking into what steps need to be taken to stop the event while making sure that public order and safety can be maintained, she added. They are closing down the event "gradually," meaning people are not being ordered to leave but those who exit the building are not allowed back in again.

"If there is a decision to apply greater force to shut us down, I can assure you that we will continue tomorrow at a different venue," one of the organisers announced on stage.

Farage announces cancellation on stage

"I have issued an order from the mayor banning the National Conservatism Conference in the interest of public safety," Kir said on social media around noon on Tuesday. "In Etterbeek, Brussels City and Saint-Josse, the far right is not welcome."

He stressed the importance of avoiding "any public disorder" and reiterated his categorical refusal to allow any event with fascist tendencies to be organised in his municipality.

Speaking on stage at the conference around 13:00, Europhobic former British politician Nigel Farage announced to the attendees that the event was being shut down. "What is happening as we speak is that the owner of the hotel is receiving phone calls from the local mayor, the police are being encouraged to come in and shut down this conference."

"They have even been speaking to the caterers, so the food hasn't arrived. The plates haven't arrived. Worst of all, the drinks haven't arrived," Farage said. "But I shouldn't make a joke of it, because they have told the owner that if he carries on with this conference, he goes out of business."

Around 40 leading figures from the conservative and religious right and far-right were invited to take part in the event. In addition to Farage, other speakers who were participating on Tuesday are Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn, Vlaams Belang MEP Tom Vandendriessche, France's Rassemblement National MEP Patricia Chagnon, Poland's PiS and Spain's Vox.

Challenging order to shut down

At 13:45, the organisers announced via social media that they would go to court to challenge the order to shut down the conference at the Claridge venue. "There is no public disturbance and no grounds to shut down a gathering of politicians, intellectuals, journalists, students, civic leaders, and concerned citizens," they said.

Should the judge decide to overturn the police order, the second day of the event could still continue as initially planned on Wednesday.

Just before 16:00, it was announced that French far-right politician Eric Zemmour had been denied entry to the venue and that his keynote address would be postponed, "possibly indefinitely." The other talks, however, are still ongoing.

The Belgian Antifascist Coordination (CAB) is calling for a protest at 17:30 at the 'I love Saint Josse' sign near the Madou metro stop on Tuesday, they told The Brussels Times. "We are expecting quite a lot of people. Those people cannot keep circulating their hypocritical call for freedom of speech without us reacting and saying much louder that hate speech is never justified by freedom of speech."

At 18:00, however, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called the shutting down of the event "unacceptable" in a post on social media. "Municipal autonomy is a cornerstone of our democracy but can never overrule the Belgian constitution guaranteeing the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly since 1830. Banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop."

This article was updated at 16:50 to include the latest information.

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