Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang is under fire after a mass demonstration against organised to denounce the incoming Belgian government saw some supporters brandish neo-Nazi symbols.
A protester driving a pick-up van brandishing symbols reminiscent of Nazi Germany was one of some 4,500 protesters who respondent to the party's call to protest.
Photos shared widely on Twitter show a pickup truck with a sticker of the eagle as depicted in Nazi Germany's coat of arms (minus the swastika) and another reading "Wer plündert, wird erschossen," which in German means "Whoever loots will be shot."
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The phrase is featured in a poster used by German authorities in Nazi-occupated France, a copy of which is kept in the archives of the Musée de Bretagne.
"A participant in the far-right 'march' displays a symbol taken from Nazi imagery and similar phraseology. They will tell us again that it is a coincidence ... No, it is not a coincidence, it is a fact," Ahmed Laaouej, head of the Parti Socialiste in the federal parliament tweeted in response.
The photo was also shared by political cartoonist Lectrr with the caption: "This is at our doorstep, dear friends" and "not my Flanders," while Françoise De Smet, leader of regionalist DéFi party said the "open, tolerant and peaceful Flanders could no longer turn a blind eye to the brown pest that is corroding its nationalism."
While around 3,800 protesters had signalled they would join the protest online, Brussels police on Sunday said some 4,500 turned up, in a win for the far-right party which was seeking mass participation to send a strong message of dissent to politicians in Brussels.
Responding to the outrage, VB chairman Tom Van Grieken said that "this type of personage" was "not welcome" and that their presence in their events "was marginal."
"Unfortunately, our security cannot have eyes on everyone. If we would have seen the driver, we would have refused them access," he told 7sur7, hitting out at the "Twittersphere for preferring to focus on this car."
Jonas Naeyaert, a spokesperson for the VB, said: "It is regrettable that an isolated case ruins the image of the demonstration. There is no place for racism and this kind of message in the Vlaams Belang. If it was only up to us, these people would not be welcome."
The far-right party — a rebrand of the Vlaams Blok which dissolved after a 2004 trial condemned the party for racism — spent days heavily promoting the drive-in protest on social media, posting a hotchpotch of footage showing migrants attempting to enter the EU by sea or land along with captions reading: " In which Flanders do we want them to grow up?"
The videos also showed confrontations with riot and border police in different cities not only in Belgium but also in France, the Netherlands and Greece.
The Brussels Times