Some 5,000 people have turned up in Brussels to demonstrate against Belgium's coronavirus measures on Sunday afternoon.
The demonstration started at the North station around 13:00 and is organised by ‘Samen voor Vrijheid’ (“Together for Freedom”), which brings together several organisations, such as Viruswaanzin, Fight for Freedom, The Human Side and Belgians for Freedom.
Before the demonstration started, the police already arrested several protesters during preventive checks, spokesperson for the Brussels-Capital/Ixelles police zone Ilse Van de keere confirmed to The Brussels Times.
"They were in possession of pyrotechnic devices," she said, adding that 5,000 participants are present at the demonstration, according to the final police count.
To ensure that everything runs smoothly and to prevent possible riots, the organisation is working closely with the police to ensure a safe march, and the police are also present.
The organisers of the demonstration called on "anyone who senses that something is not right" to join the march. The crowd moved from Brussels North Station via the inner ring road through the European quarter to the Cinquantenaire Park, where the protesters are expected to arrive around 18:00.
The march is also expected to cause traffic disruptions until 18:00, as several tunnels - like the Reyers-Centre and Cinquantenaire tunnels - have been closed by the police.
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⚠️? Zondag 9/1 trekt een betoging door Brussel, tussen 13u en 18u.Verkeershinder wordt verwacht langs het parcours, dat loopt van het Noordstation, langs de Kleine Ring (R20) en door de Europese wijk, richting Jubelpark. pic.twitter.com/9b4Ku5Vmcw — Verkeersinfo Brussel Mobiliteit (@MobirisNL) January 7, 2022
'Millions of people who do what is necessary'
In the meantime, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo reacted to the demonstration on VTM News, saying that "if everyone behaved the way [the protesters] wanted, we would have been in lockdown for months and we would not have had a life."
He said that everyone has the right to protest, and that it is not forbidden for these few thousand protesters to have a different opinion. "But there are millions of people who do what is necessary, who get vaccinated and who abide by the rules."
The protesters' claim that the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) is not legal and has not been proven to help stop the spread of the virus is "complete nonsense," De Croo said.
"The CST is a good way of allowing life to continue at a difficult moment," he said. "This ensures that we can still live a little normally. That we can eat something, go shopping and children can go to school."
Update: This article was updated to include the official police count of the number of participants in the demonstration.