Belgian police fire water cannon during anti-containment protests

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Belgian police fired water cannon and used tear gas to disperse protesters opposing mandatory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 8,000 people marched through Brussels to the EU headquarters, chanting “freedom” and setting off fireworks.

The crowd was smaller than the 35,000 vaccine and lockdown skeptics who marched last month, and police were better prepared.

Protesters were prevented from reaching the roundabout outside the EU headquarters by a barricade of barbed wire and a line of riot officers. As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, they launched fireworks and cans of beer. Police responded with water cannons and tear gas.

As the crowd dispersed into small groups around the European Quarter, clashes escalated and some set fire to garbage barricades. Police said two of their officers and four protesters had been hospitalized and 20 people arrested.

Several European countries have seen protests in recent weeks as governments respond to an increase in Covid cases with tighter restrictions.

In Brussels, organizers hoped to match the demonstration on November 21, in which police seemed caught off guard and violent clashes took place.

Protesters oppose mandatory health measures – like masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes – and some share conspiracy theories. Banners on Sunday compared the stigma of the unvaccinated to the treatment of Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.

“Covid = organized genocide,” said a sign. “The QR code is a swastika,” said another, referring to the EU’s Covid-safe digital certificate.

Uniformed firefighters marched ahead of the protest as it made its way through town, demanding the right to refuse vaccination.

The measures imposed to tackle Covid in Belgium were decided by the country’s own national and regional governments, but the EU has also drawn the ire of skeptics.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that she felt it was time to “think about compulsory vaccination”, a suggestion which was denounced by speakers at the protest.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo on Friday announced a series of measures to toughen health rules, bringing the Christmas school holidays forward and asking children six and over to wear masks.

Belgium, with a population of 11 million, has recorded an average of more than 17,800 daily Covid-19 infections over the past seven days, as well as 44 deaths.

About 800 people with severe forms of the disease are in intensive care in hospitals across the country, resulting in overcrowding and postponing treatment for many other ailments.

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