Brussels on alert after race riots

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The Independent Online
Belgium's capital was tense and on high alert yesterday after a weekend of clashes between police and North African immigrants sparked by police shooting dead a suspected drug dealer of Moroccan origin.

"The forces of order are present in large numbers and will remain in place," the interior minister, Johan Vande Lanotte, said after a crisis meeting of civic leaders. "The security measures will continue".

Anderlecht, a poor district of Brussels where immigrants make up about 60 per cent of the population, erupted in violence on Friday night after police killed Said Charki, 24, as he tried to escape arrest. He was found to be in possession of 50 grammes of heroin.

The disturbances continued on Saturday and during a demonstration against racism on Sunday, when members of the marginalised and largely ignored North African immigrant population in the capital vented their pent-up anger. More than 170 people were arrested, petrol bombs and paving stones thrown, shop windows smashed and cars overturned.

By yesterday afternoon, all the people arrested had been released, prompting the Mayor of Brussels, Francois-Xavier De Donnea, to criticise the public prosecutor's office for a lack of rigour, given that some of them were found with iron bars and bottles of petrol.

About 200,000 immigrants, mostly of North African origin, live in and around Brussels. Many see themselves as much Belgian as North African, but they have been deprived of voting rights and find themselves forced to the fringes of society.

Their problems are aggravated by the fact that many are francophone, putting them on a collision course with the Dutch speaking population in Brussels and the north of the country.