Anti-Migrant Tensions Erupt in Brussels as Police in 4 Countries Make Terror-related Arrests

Protesters chanting far-right slogans disrupted a peaceful remembrance for terrorism victims on Sunday in central Brussels. A police spokesman said the protesters were soccer hooligans. (Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times)
Protesters chanting far-right slogans disrupted a peaceful remembrance for terrorism victims on Sunday in central Brussels. A police spokesman said the protesters were soccer hooligans. (Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times)

The police in at least four countries arrested new suspects during the weekend in the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, as memorials in central Brussels to the victims of Tuesday’s bombings were briefly overrun by hooligans.

Angry protesters gathered near the Brussels stock exchange on Sunday. Chanting “Belgie barst” — or “Break up Belgium,” a Flemish slogan used by one of Belgium’s nationalist far-right parties — they brandished flares and threw water bottles at peaceful demonstrators who were holding banners proclaiming unity.

“This is very dangerous,” said Anne Kluyskens, 61, who lives on the outskirts of Brussels and had come to the center of the Belgian capital to show solidarity with the attack victims and other Belgian citizens. “The extreme right are as dangerous as the jihadists. They have a message of hate.”

“Perhaps their actions are not yet as violent, but it is the same message,” she added.

The police used water cannons to drive back the far-right protesters, and the square was reopened after the brief clash. The episode, however, was a reminder of the tension in the city after the terrorist attacks that killed 31 victims, and of the anger fueling far-right parties here and around Europe who want to sharply limit immigration.

According to a Brussels police spokesman, Christian de Coninck, quoted by the Belga news agency, about 340 hooligans supporting various Belgian soccer clubs had come to Brussels from Vilvoorde, a Flemish town a 20-minute drive from the capital. Mr. de Coninck told the news agency that the men had made “fascist salutes.”

The diverse, peaceful crowd attending the informal gathering for the victims on Easter, in the square in front of the historic Brussels stock exchange, was far larger than those that had gathered earlier in the week, because many people had come to the capital for a planned March Against Fear, which was canceled a day before. Among those lighting candles and taking photos were blond, blue-eyed Belgians; Muslim women, their heads covered with the hijab; and dark-haired men from Belgium’s large Moroccan community.

Some held up flags of various countries, and one group had a banner that said, “Pas au Nom d’Islam,” meaning that the terrorist attacks had not been done in the name of Islam. Many lit candles in memory of those who had died, and some in attendance said they had friends who had been injured at the Maelbeek station on Tuesday.

Yousra Ziani, 16, a Belgian high school student whose parents emigrated from Morocco, said her parents had advised her against going out because they worried about her safety. She felt she had to come, saying, “It is important to show our unity and solidarity as Belgians.”

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SOURCE: LILIA BLAISE and ALISSA J. RUBIN
The New York Times