Belgium's Dutch border braces for riots against Covid rules

Belgium's Dutch border braces for riots against Covid rules
Credit: Belga

Several Belgian municipalities close to the Dutch border are bracing for possible riots against the coronavirus measures, following similar unrest in the Netherlands last weekend.

For the third day in a row, protests against the coronavirus measures, and in particular the 9:00 PM curfew, ended in riots in the Netherlands on Monday evening. The fear of unrest is also growing on the Belgian side of the border, after a number of calls for protests on social media.

In the municipality of Maasmechelen in Limburg, a Molotov cocktail was thrown towards the house of the former mayor on Monday evening, and calls to start a riot on Saturday 30 January have been circulating online.

The local police have opened an investigation. "The police are certainly taking this seriously, even if for the time being it remains just a message on social media," Johnie Nijs, spokesperson for police zone LaMa (Lanaken/Maasmechelen) told Het Laatste Nieuws.

Mayor Raf Terwingen condemns the organisation of an "uprising in Maasmechelen," and called the throwing of a Molotov cocktail "a reprehensible act."

"This is totally irresponsible," he said on Flemish radio. "It is a slap in the face for everyone who fights against the coronavirus, and for the many healthcare workers who have been risking their lives for months."

In the meantime, the Turkish community in Maasmechelen is calling on everyone to keep the peace, and to not be influenced "by what is happening in other municipalities, cities, or the Netherlands."

In the city of Genk, a little further inland, similar messages are circulating on social media, with calls to gather at the train station and bring fireworks and smoke bombs, also on Saturday. The mayor and police are looking into who is behind the call.

In Turnhout, a border municipality in the Antwerp province, calls to riot on Saturday are going around online as well, urging people to wear dark clothes, bring fireworks and share the message with others.

The police in Turnhout are aware of the messages, and are keeping a close eye on the situation, according to the chief of police Roger Leys. "We have not yet been able to trace the source, but we suspect that it is an offshoot of the recent violence in the Netherlands," he told local media.

So far, it seems like the unrest remains concentrated along the Belgian border with the Netherlands. However, the Brussels police are following the situation at the border closely so they can prepare for a similar situation, if that turns out to be necessary.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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