Thousands again protest in Brussels over coronavirus rules – POLITICO

Thousands of protesters again took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday to protest coronavirus restrictions, despite the Belgian government choosing to delay new measures last week and warnings of a spike in cases.

The unmasked protesters, who are calling for “freedom” and “freedom,” say they want the government to revoke the COVID certificate required to enter various places, and for Belgium’s scientific advisory board to consider a greater range of views in decision-making.

Organizers estimated around 25,000 turned out, while police cited a figure closer to 5,000 – a significant drop in turnout from about 35,000 people who took part in a demonstration last November that turned violent.

Sunday’s demonstration was the latest organized by the “Samen Voor Vrijheid” group, which means Together for Freedom, since the November 21 unrest, and has been significantly more peaceful. The umbrella organization Together for Freedom brings together smaller groups including Virus Madness, Fight for Freedom, The Human Side and the Belgians for Freedom.

The march began at Gare du Nord railway station in Brussels and proceeded around the Parc du Cinquantenaire, where at one point police encountered several protesters setting off fireworks, but the confrontation was quickly put down. The officers had confiscated firecrackers and helmets from some of the participants at the beginning of the protest in order to avoid the clashes that took place last year. Police later reported several arrests near the Parc du Cinquantenaire, just before 5 p.m.

The demonstration attracted a wide range of participants, from families with young children to very young beer handlers, as well as politicians from the European Union.

Firefighters join the protest in Brussels | Samuel Stolton / POLITICO

“We are demanding our rights, our freedom and our freedom,” European Parliament member Christian Terhey of the European Conservatives and Reformists told POLITICO while leading a group of his Romanian colleagues.

“What is happening now across Europe, it is an unspeakable violation that we have not seen, at least in the West, since the Second World War,” he said.

Although Belgian officials refrained from imposing new measures last Thursday, Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo warned that “the coming weeks will be difficult” and expected to see new record levels of infections: “The numbers are rising and the situation will get worse before it gets better.”

Ezra Armaki, one of the main organizers of Together for Freedom, argued that Belgian rules for the use of COVID cards in bars, restaurants and sports and fitness centers only serve to “stimulate disengagement” among citizens.

Gaetan Cantimo, a 46-year-old cardiologist from Charleroi, said the main reason behind his decision to protest was to show support for “preserving our freedom in public space”.

Olivier Gosselet, a 47-year-old IT engineer in Brussels who attended the demonstration with his young daughter, said he was skeptical about the direction Europe was heading in terms of vaccination programmes.

“I am against mass vaccination because I believe there are other solutions to the epidemic,” he said.

The march began at Gare du Nord railway station in Brussels and proceeded around the Parc du Cinquantenaire | Samuel Stolton/Politico

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