Some 1,200 tractors in Brussels, EU Quarter closed off to traffic

Some 1,200 tractors in Brussels, EU Quarter closed off to traffic
Farmers attend a protest action in the European district in Brussels, organized by several agriculture unions from Belgium but also other European countries on Thursday 01 February 2024. Credit: Belga / Dirk Waem

The sounds of honking tractors have been heard since Wednesday night across Brussels and the European Quarter. More than 1,000 tractors have gathered in protest, causing traffic disruption around Place du Luxembourg.

Dozens of tractors have been blocking Place De Meeûs since Monday, just by Place du Luxembourg. Around 18:30 on Wednesday, another convoy of tractors headed for the European Quarter ahead of the large farmers' protest that coincides with the EU summit on Thursday.

"Now, there are about 1,000 tractors on the Luxembourg and Schuman squares," a spokesperson for the City of Brussels and Ixelles police zone told The Brussels Times. "Over the entire region, we have counted about 1,300."

Rows of tractors pictured from a building in the Belliard street during a protest action in the European district in Brussels. Credit: Belga / Hatim Kaghat

Many warnings were given to drivers in advance to avoid travelling in and out of Brussels by car, and several key roads and tunnels have been closed off, including the Reyers-Centre tunnel from the E40-A3 to the centre.

On Thursday morning, the centre of the European Quarter, including Place du Luxembourg, was also closed off by police, as farmers had taken over these streets. The Madou and Annie Cordy tunnels were closed temporarily early in the morning, but have since reopened.

Translation: "Closure of Luxembourg Square and surrounding streets in Brussels."

"As expected, the biggest traffic disruption is mainly on Rue Belliard, around Place Schuman and the smaller streets in the European district, but other areas aren't impacted as much," the police said.

Several STIB bus routes that normally pass through the European quarter have been restricted or rerouted, and the public transport operator has called on people to travel by metro instead.

Most of the farmers are young Belgians from the south of the country, such as Seneffe and Tournai, but farmers from abroad, including Italy, are also present.

There is a massive police presence in the surrounding streets. The police noted around 09:00 on Thursday morning that everything was running smoothly, and that there had been no incidents so far.

Farmers and fire pictured at the Place du Luxembourg during a protest early on Thursday. Credit: Belga/ Hatim Kaghat

However, on Place du Luxembourg itself, located in front of the European Parliament, two large fires burned and dung carts were emptied. There are also reports of farmers throwing eggs at the main Parliament building.

Farmers also dismantled a historic sculpture dating back to 1871 on the Place du Luxembourg and set it alight. "From a heritage point of view, this is irreparable. From a symbolic point of view, it's a crying shame," said Yves Rouyet, the President of Unesco in Belgium.

Situation outside Brussels

Farmers started motorway blockades on Sunday last week and continued to disrupt traffic on Belgian key roads on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Protests also took place at the port of Antwerp, resulting in blocked crossings, preventing ships from continuing.

Belgian farmers are denouncing the "spaghetti of regulations, to the point of absurdity," as well as specifically imposed dates on which to sow crops, and the Nature Restoration Act or subsidies for reforestation. The farmers' unions have called on Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to put their concerns on the agenda of the EU Summit on Thursday.

The disruption will continue on Thursday, also outside of Brussels. On the Inner Ring around Brussels in Zellik, only one lane was open, resulting in queues of one hour. There is a traffic jam from Antwerp-Haven on the A12 to Bergen-op-Zoom due to blockades at the exits in Zandvliet.

Translation: "Lummen junction update: due to the event, there is a lot of disruption in all directions. Please avoid the area if possible."

In Limburg, there are major problems at the junction in Lummen (Klaverblad), a major traffic axis in the region that farmers plan to occupy throughout the day.

In Ghent, the city ring road (R40) was completely blocked by tractors in both directions, the local police reported on social media. Tractors also blocked a distance of some 500 metres near the Bijloke, where a symposium on the future of agriculture in the European Union is starting.

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