The building of the European External Action Service was damaged by violent demonstrators on Sunday (23 January) during protests against COVID-19 restrictions with participants from across the EU.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell thanked police and condemned “the senseless destruction and violence” in a tweet that showed him standing in front of a broken pane of glass in what appears to be the entrance of EEAS.
The French Presidency of the Council of the EU condemned the attack.
La présidence française du conseil de l’UE condamne fermement les violences des manifestants à Bruxelles contre les bâtiments de @eu_eeas @EU_FPI et exprime sa pleine solidarité avec les équipes. La PFUE remercie les forces de l’ordre belges pour leur intervention. pic.twitter.com/f6tpW3wfim
— Présidence française du Conseil de l’UE 🇫🇷🇪🇺 (@Europe2022FR) January 23, 2022
The Brussels police said they were analysing the videos to identify those responsible.
Tens of thousands of people protested in Brussels on Sunday against COVID-19 restrictions, some clashing with police who fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse them near the European Commission’s headquarters.
The rally drew about 50,000 people, Belgian police said. Reportedly there were participants from several European countries, waving national flags. The Antifa flag was also seen.
A video circulating on social media shows a protester burning a EU flag.
It was peaceful at first as protesters chanted and filled streets, waving placards and balloons with slogans like: “We want to be free again” and “No Covid slave ticket”, a reference to vaccine passes required for certain activities.
Trouble flared later, with a building housing the EEAS and a sandwich shop broken into. Police said more than 60 people were arrested, with three officers and 12 demonstrators taken to hospital.
A female protestor said the manifestation was planned as peaceful, but a group of some 300 violent hooligans joined in and created havoc.
Police said that around 70 people were arrested, including a dozen for more serious offences including throwing projectiles and damaging property.
Three officers and 12 demonstrators were hospitalised, but none were in a life-threatening condition.
“Freedom of expression is one of the foundations of our society. Everyone is free to express their opinion,” Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement.
“But our society will never accept indiscriminate violence, and even less towards our police forces. Those involved this Sunday will be prosecuted.”
Brussels City mayor Philippe Close tweeted that it had been a “difficult day”.
“Nothing can justify the physical attacks of which the police have been victims,” he wrote.
Belgium announced a slight easing of coronavirus measures on Friday despite record infections, but also said people must have booster shots after five months to keep passes for bars, cinemas and many other public spaces.
‘Anti-dictator, not anti-vaxxer’
“I’m angry about the blackmail that the government is doing,” said protester Caroline van Landuyt, who had herself been vaccinated. Her children did not want to be inoculated but had to so as to travel and play sport, she said.
Sunday’s scenes in the Belgian capital were reminiscent of clashes last November, when around 35,000 protesters took to Brussels’ streets and there was also violence.
Some protesters let off fireworks as police advanced into a park. Riot officers ringed the water cannon. “I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m anti-dictator,” read another placard.
Belgium is facing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, with the peak not expected for at least a couple of weeks.
Some 89% of Belgian adults are fully vaccinated and 67% have now also received a booster shot.