Belgian police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the dozens of protesters inspired by France’s “yellow vest” anti-tax movement as they converged on the office of Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas in central Brussels on Friday to drive back protesters inspired by France’s “yellow vest” anti-tax movement who hurled rocks at the prime minister’s office.
Police made dozens of arrests and protesters destroyed at least two police vans as what started as a peaceful but unauthorised demonstration, lacking clear leadership and largely promoted on social media, descended into violence as people, many masked or hooded, tried to breach police lines.
For three hours, crowds complaining about fuel prices and a squeeze on living standards disrupted traffic and walked the streets. Police said they arrested about 60 before the violence, mostly for blocking roads or carrying large fireworks.
Several hundred people wearing the fluorescent safety vests drivers must carry in their vehicles eventually converged on the office of Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Dozens, many of them masked, threw rocks, firecrackers and road signs at police who doused them with high-pressure water jets and fired gas rounds.
Protests in Belgium, notably around fuel depots in the French-speaking south, have been inspired by the yellow vest — or “gilet jaune” — actions in France against increases in fuel duty imposed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government as part of efforts to reduce emissions causing global warming.
“Michel, resign!” people chanted on Friday. Michel, a liberal ally of Macron, voiced sympathy for people’s troubles on Thursday, but added, “Money doesn’t fall from the sky.”
His centre-right coalition faces an election in May.
French premier to meet with protesters
France’s PM, Edouard Philippe, will meet on Friday with representatives of some of the “yellow vest” protesters.
The government’s move comes amid calls for new protests on Saturday across France, including on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where a demonstration last weekend degenerated into violence.
Shopkeepers on the French capital’s famed avenue scrambled to prepare for new violence, bringing in workers to barricade boutique windows with boards. Decorative iron grates, used last week in barricades, were removed from around trees and outdoor terraces were dismantled.
“It’s as if there was a war. It’s incredible,” said Paris resident Olivier Le Quellec. “We are sealing off the centre of the village. It becomes a little ghetto. It’s frightening.”
Motorists protesting a fuel tax hike have been joined by farmers, white collar workers, retirees and others in the “yellow vest” movement.
Their list of demands includes tax cuts, the creation of a citizens’ assembly, state-funded subsidies to help companies boost hiring, and higher pensions and a higher national minimum wage.
The “yellow vest” name is a reference to the fluorescent security jackets the protesters wear and that are mandatory in French cars.
The protesters are using social media to organise, and a spokesman for France’s Union of National Police Chiefs said it was critical to be prepared for Saturday’s events.
“We can’t be naive. Tomorrow is a day of risks,” David Le Bars said on BFMTV.