Brussels police accused of 'unacceptable' violence at health care workers protest

Brussels police accused of 'unacceptable' violence at health care workers protest
Credit: La Santé en Lutte/Facebook

A protest of thousands of health care workers in Brussels at the weekend led to more than 30 arrests and to accusations of "unacceptable" use of force by police against demonstrators.

Some 4,000 people gathered in central Brussels on Sunday afternoon in support for the sector's demands for increased financing of the health care, in a demonstration which was authorised to go forward despite coronavirus restrictions of public gatherings.

Current measures mean that outdoor gatherings can take place with a maximum of 400 participants.

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Videos shared by organisers show standoffs between protesters and riot police during which officers can be seen shoving protesters with shields and spraying tear gas on them, while two officers can be seen beating a protester with clubs.

"Our gathering went well, we were respecting the agreement with police to gathering in groups of 400," when police began moving in on demonstrators and began using violence in an "unacceptable and unjustified way," according to organisers.

Organisers said on Facebook that the standoff started after officers were ordered to "provoke demonstrators" with a "disproportionate deployment of units, with violence and with degrading and humiliating comments."

A total of 35 protesters were arrested, a majority of whom were released with no charges before the end of the day, police spokesperson Olivier Slosse confirmed, adding that three detainees were kept longer for questioning but released after.

Footage shared online by a collective of healthcare workers called La Santé en Lutte showed police officers in riot gear line up and block unarmed demonstrators, shoving them and using tear gas against them as they demanded to be allowed to pass.

Other scenes caught on video showed some officers (not in uniform but wearing a police armband) spraying protesters as well as two police officers in riot gear clubbing one protester who appeared to be unarmed.

Images of the clashes, which took place in and around Mont des Arts square, also showed water cannons parked along the road.

Slosse said that demonstrators knew they were not allowed to march but that one group attempted to break from the main one and march towards the Place de la Chapelle.

"We effectively had to use coercion to stop this cortege," he said, adding that towards the end of the demonstration police also used tear gas as other groups attempted to continue demonstrating in a "non-static" way."

In their statement, organisers also denounced the continual refusal by authorities to allow the demonstration to move through the city, saying it led to riskier health situations since social distancing could not be respected as demonstrators began to be corraled-in by police.

"By investing public money in such a response by police (water cannons, over 200 officers mobilised on a Sunday) politicians chose repression over health," demonstrators said.

Organisers launched a call for participants who were "aggressed" by police to share their accounts as well as photos and videos and said they would be filing a complaint with police observatory Police Watch.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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