Brussels Solidarity March Called Off To Continue Investigation
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Rachel Martin. We begin this hour in Brussels where Belgian authorities continue to investigate the bombings Tuesday that left more than 30 dead and 270 injured.
What was supposed to be a peaceful Easter, a time for reflection and unity, turned ugly.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)
WERTHEIMER: A March Against Fear planned for today was canceled, so as not to sap police resources. But Belgians did turn out earlier this morning, including a couple of hundred men dressed in black who took over a peaceful vigil.
NPR's Melissa Block is reporting from Brussels. She joined us from the scene of that vigil.
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: There had been hundreds gathered here holding hands in solidarity against terrorism, commemorating the victims. And all of a sudden, a group of marchers, 100 strong - as you say, all dressed in black, all of them men - came marching into the center square here, right in front of the stock exchange, chanting slogans, taking over - essentially hijacking this peaceful protest. They had a flare lit as they marched in. They were pumping their fists in the air. Their banner indicated that they were soccer fans. We would call them hooligans - clearly seemed to have right-wing views. There were shouts of it's all your fault implicating, I believe, Muslims in what had happened here - and the Muslim population of Brussels.
It was very ugly. Punches were thrown. Police moved in in force - riot police with police dogs. Eventually, water cannons came into the street - trucks of water cannons herded the black-clad protesters out of the square, turned the water cannons on and forced them out of the square. And now back in the square are the peaceful protesters. And I'm looking - right to my right is a man holding a rainbow flag that says peace, a lot of signs about heart over hate.
WERTHEIMER: This all followed Easter morning services, I take it. There was a very different scene there.
BLOCK: Right. And the priest at the services that we went to at the cathedral here, which is named after the patron saints of the city, made a brief mention of what had happened. He said after everything that happened in this city these last few days, it's hard to celebrate Easter in the normal way. And he mentioned the victims of arbitrary violence with the theme of resurrection and rebirth and eternal life through the life of Christ, so it was quite moving.
A lot of people turned out. I mean, the sense around town is that - around the city that I've seen is people are more or less living their lives. Some people have said look, I don't want to go into the metro, which was, of course, one of the scenes of the bombings. But they are out and about. They're in the cafes. Children are in parks. And as I stand here now, there are hundreds of people gathered in this public square.
WERTHEIMER: Melissa, have you learned anything about - the investigation, as we've said, is ongoing. Have you learned anything more about Tuesday's bombings at the Brussels airport and the metro?
BLOCK: Well, as you say, the investigation continues. And there have been a number of raids - 13 raids, I believe, in the area around Brussels overnight. Nine people were detained - five of them released. Unclear whether those are people who are believed to have ties specifically to what happened here on Tuesday or more broadly to the attacks in Paris last November. As you know, there are deep connections between those bombers - those suicide bombers in Paris and the people who carried out the attacks here on Tuesday at the airport and in the metro in Brussels.
You know, Linda, I want to mention one more thing before I go. I'm standing right next to a poster of someone saying - have you seen? And there's a picture of a woman with her name - very similar to the signs we saw all over New York City after 9/11. There were so many victims who were not identified right away, and this is a sign of one of them who was missing.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Melissa Block. She's reporting from Brussels. Melissa, thank you.
BLOCK: You're welcome, Linda.
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