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Protesters Disrupt Planned Brussels Vigil
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Protesters Disrupt Planned Brussels Vigil

Europe

Protesters Disrupt Planned Brussels Vigil

Protesters Disrupt Planned Brussels Vigil
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Hundreds of people turned out for what was supposed to be a peaceful rally in Brussels for bombing victims. It turned violent when right-wing protesters stormed in to disrupt the gathering.

DANIEL ZWERDLING, HOST:

And in Brussels today, a peaceful rally turned ugly. A large crowd had gathered in a central square to honor the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Then suddenly, hundreds of thugs dressed in black descended on the scene. NPR's Melissa Block was there and has this report.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: It started with rainbow flags and a bubble maker wafting iridescent globes above the crowd. People held signs reading solidarity against terrorism and hate. A young girl cried out...

UNIDENTFIED CHILD: (Shouting in French).

(APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: ...Long live Belgium. People who gathered around the makeshift shrine of tulips and candles joined hands and lifted them high in the air. Two young boys walked through the crowd offering free cookies - sharing them, they told me, to pay homage to the victims. And out of nowhere, a lone voice rang forth.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing in foreign language).

BLOCK: Then suddenly, with a red flare hoisted to announce their arrival, a stream of shouting white men poured into the square.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Chanting in French).

BLOCK: A group of marchers who appear to be extremists dressed in black have just descended on the peaceful protest here in the center of Brussels. We're hearing people say, down with the fascists, down with hate.

Whether right-wing extremists or soccer hooligans or both, the men in black hijacked the vigil. They tromped through the makeshift memorial and stormed onto the steps of the stock exchange. Many had shaved heads. They pumped their fists in the air and gave stiff-arm salutes.

They unfurled a banner with an obscene suggestion for ISIS. Punches were thrown. One thug yelled, pointing to the peaceful crowd, it's your fault. And someone called out in response...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking French).

BLOCK: ...Fascists, racists. I talked with one of the men in black, Gaetan Alexandre, who told me, we're not fascists. We're just against Islamism.

GAETAN ALEXANDRE: (Speaking French).

BLOCK: "It's clear that in Belgium, we've let Islam take root too strongly," he said. "We don't have a problem with Muslims, but we let people radicalize themselves too easily." The ugly confrontation left medical student Maria Bandiera in tears.

MARIA BANDIERA: Why am I crying? Because I feel shameful of where the future going to lead, because I think it's not racism that solves the issue. It's too easy to blame on a group.

BLOCK: And the peaceful demonstrators had a chant of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Chanting in French).

BLOCK: "We are all children of immigrants," they chanted. "First, second, third generation."

Eventually a swarm of riot police moved in, armed with plastic shields and batons and dogs, to form a cordon encircling the thugs. Huge police trucks mounted with water cannons rolled into the square.

The water cannons are going off. They are trying to disperse this crowd of men in black who've come from all over Belgium today. Riot police are leading the way in force.

The men in black were forced back the way they came. And just like that, it was over. Cafe workers put their chairs and tables back outside. Street sweepers immediately started cleaning up the crushed beer cans left behind. And back in the square, the rainbow flag and the bubbles floated again against the blue sky. Melissa Block, NPR News, Brussels.

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Riot Police Respond To Right-Wing Protest In Brussels

A masked man raises a fist and the Belgian flag outside the stock exchange in Brussels on Sunday, at a square filled with memorials to the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Tensions mounted after the square, occupied by mourners, was invaded by far-right protesters whom AFP identified as football hooligans. i

A masked man raises a fist and the Belgian flag outside the stock exchange in Brussels on Sunday, at a square filled with memorials to the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Tensions mounted after the square, occupied by mourners, was invaded by far-right protesters whom AFP identified as football hooligans. Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images
A masked man raises a fist and the Belgian flag outside the stock exchange in Brussels on Sunday, at a square filled with memorials to the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Tensions mounted after the square, occupied by mourners, was invaded by far-right protesters whom AFP identified as football hooligans.

A masked man raises a fist and the Belgian flag outside the stock exchange in Brussels on Sunday, at a square filled with memorials to the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Tensions mounted after the square, occupied by mourners, was invaded by far-right protesters whom AFP identified as football hooligans.

Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

Right-wing protesters have gathered at a vigil for victims of Tuesday's Brussels attack, sparking confrontations and prompting a response from riot police.

Meanwhile, authorities in Italy have made another arrest in association with the ISIS-claimed attacks, which killed 31 and injured more than 300.

Brussels residents had originally been planning a "march against fear" on Sunday, but it was canceled after the minister of the interior made an appeal to the public. He said the police was stretched thin investigating the attacks and asked for the march to be called off, given security concerns. The planners of the march agreed.

But a vigil for victims was held at Brussels' city center, at the site where mourners have left flowers, candles and notes honoring the victims.

NPR's Melissa Block, reporting from the scene, described what it was like when the peaceful gathering was joined by a group of right-wing protesters.

"A group of right-wing extremists clad in black have marched to the center of this rally and have basically commandeered it. They have taken over," Melissa told our Newscast unit. "They're shouting, 'It's because of you,' meaning the migrants here in Brussels."

Melissa reported altercations between the extremists and the gathered mourners — then the arrival of Brussels police in riot gear.

"It looks like the police are coming in to clear the square and try to defuse this tense and potentially volatile situation," Melissa says.

Tensions have been high in the capital of Belgium this weekend.

A video posted on Islamic State-associated social media accounts on Saturday showed a Belgian militant speaking in Dutch and telling Belgium "the attack in Brussels is reaping what you had sown with your own hands," according to the SITE intelligence group.

"Just as you bomb the Muslims with your F15s, we will fight your people," the video continued.

In Italy, another arrest has been made in connection to the attacks. (Several arrests were made earlier this week, and multiple suspects have been charged. Three of the suspected suicide bombers have also been identified.)

The Associated Press reports on the new arrest:

"Italian police say they have arrested an Algerian man wanted by Belgian authorities for alleged involvement in a Belgium-based network of false IDs used by suspects implicated in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

"The man, arrested near Salerno, came to Italy's attention by applying for a residency permit. Police Sunday noted he had the same name of man sought by Belgium for alleged involvement in 'a criminal network dedicated to false documents on a large scale' that emerged last year in Brussels.

"Belgium issued a warrant in January, three months after a raid in the Brussels suburb of Saint-Gilles yield about a 1,000 digital images used for false documents.

"Police are investigating why the man was in Italy and expect extradition procedures to begin. They didn't identify the man or specify when he was arrested."

Belgian prosecutors have also brought charges against a second man accused of involvement in a plot to attack Paris. Police are continuing to conduct raids in Brussels and elsewhere in Belgium.


You can find more on the attacks under our Brussels tag.

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