Tens of thousands of people protest against tougher COVID-19 rules in Belgium

BRUSSELS (AP) – Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday to protest against the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter the latest peak in coronavirus cases.

Many of the 35,000 people estimated by police at the rally had already returned home when the protest escalated into violence as several hundred people began bombing police, smashing cars and burning garbage cans. Police retaliated with tear gas and water cannons and sought to restore order as dusk fell over the Belgian capital.

Three police officers and a protester were injured in the clashes. In addition, 42 protesters were arrested and two were arrested and charged in the wave of violence that followed the march, police spokeswoman Ilse Vande Keere said.

The marchers came to protest against the government’s firm advice to get vaccinated and against any attempt to impose mandatory vaccines.

By shouting “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! ”And chanting the anti-fascist song“ Bella Ciao ”, the demonstrators lined up behind a huge banner saying“ Together for Freedom ”and marched to the European Union headquarters. Placards ranged from far-right badges to rainbow flags of the LGBT community.

The World Health Organization said last week that Europe is currently the hotspot of the pandemic, the only region in which deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise. The fall wave of infections is overwhelming hospitals in many countries of central and eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Over the past few days, there have been numerous anti-vaccination marches in European countries as one government after another has tightened measures. Dutch police arrested more than 30 people on Saturday during unrest in The Hague and other cities in the Netherlands, following far worse violence the night before.

Austria enters a 10-day nationwide lockdown for everyone on Monday after first imposing a lockdown on the unvaccinated. Vienna’s Christmas markets were packed on Sunday with locals and tourists alike admiring the vacation spots before shops and food stalls were forced to close.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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