A deputation of the protestors known as the Yellow Vests took to the streets of Brussels yesterday (Friday), in a demonstration planned to be about the cost of living, but which turned into a riot. The final count – 82 demonstrators arrested according to the latest police figures, 12 police officers injured, water cannon and tear gas deployed and two police vans were set on fire.
Around 500 demonstrators turned up for the march, which turned to violence when they were prevented from approaching the protected zone at the end of Rue de la Loi, where the parliament and numerous government offices are located. No demonstrations of any kind are permitted in that area.
Marches then began throwing cobblestones and billiard balls at the police lines. “They’re our stones,” one protestor told De Morgen. “They were paid for with our taxes.” As the procession was stopped at the junction Arts-Loi, police turned water cannon on the stone-throwers and launched tear gas. Marchers responded by turning one police van on its side and setting fire to it and another parked nearby.
According to march organisers, the trouble was caused by interlopers – extreme left-wing groups who have infiltrated an economic protest for no other reason than to cause trouble. Clashes with police have already taken place at Yellow Vest protests in Wallonia, as well as in France where the movement originated. Yet the organisers seem unable to root out the problem in their midst. As one man, who travelled to Brussels from Marche-en-Famenne in the Ardennes said: “We are a legitimate movement which has the right to demonstrate in the streets, and you have to understand that 80-90% of the Yellow Vests are pacifists.” Those responsible for the violence, he said, “discredit our movement. We lose all support from the people we are trying to reach. We don’t have any need for violence.”
Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close agreed the problems were caused by “trouble-makers who are known to the police.” Federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon echoed that view. “Anyone who wasn’t picked up today can be prosecuted later,” he said.
However only six of the 82 arrests were in connection with possible criminal charges for the time being. The others were administrative arrests in order to check the identity of the arrestee and look for outstanding warrants – essentially public order arrests rather than judicial.