Yesterday’s demonstration by the unofficial group known as the Yellow Vests ended with 460 detentions, ten of them on criminal charges, as well as some property damage. The marchers followed the same route as they had on 30 November, from Cinquantenaire and Schuman via Rue de la Loi to the edge of the neutral zone where the parliament and ministerial offices are situated, and where demonstrations of any kind are not allowed.
At the junction of the inner ring and the Rue Lambermont, where the prime minister has his official residence, marchers clashed with police. The gathering then broke up, with part of the group – in fact two separate groups of about 500 people each – split with some dispersing and others heading down the ring to Place Rogier and Rue Neuve.
The marchers, inspired by a similar ad hoc group in France, are protesting about taxation, diesel prices and the cost of living in general. Since, unlike unions for example, they have no structure or spokespersons, they have yet to present anything like concrete proposals or demands.
Public opinion appears to believe strongly that those demonstrators with a legitimate complaint have been infiltrated by extreme right-wing elements who are responsible for clashes with police and destruction of property. Evidence that such interlopers are an organised group would be difficult to provide, given that the Yellow Vests are a group open to anyone who turns up.
The main disturbance, as on the previous occasion, came when police halted the progress of the march at the neutral zone. Marchers threw stones at police, who responded with water cannon, tear gas and baton charges.
At one point, a number of demonstrators gave themselves in to the police, when they were handcuffed and transported to the police barracks in Etterbeek. Another group approached the US Embassy further along the inner ring, where they were met by mounted police, and responded by throwing fire-crackers at the horses’ feet.
Finally, police sent reinforcements to Rue Neuve to prepare for an encounter with marchers who had headed towards Place Rogier. When both locations were sealed off, the marchers dispersed into Schaerbeek and St-Josse, and the demonstration was over.
Of the hundreds of demonstrators detained, ten will face criminal charges, including vandalism and damage to property including a car, a bottle-bank and a Christmas tree.