Belgian police and a few hundred protesters, including many dockers, clashed in central Brussels today after a largely peaceful march against reforms and cost-cutting measures of the new centre-right government.
Several cars were overturned or set on fire and assorted projectiles thrown at the lines of police, who responded with pepper spray and water cannon. Police finally cleared the area with a charge late in the afternoon. A police spokesman declined to say how many people had been detained and how many police and protesters injured.
Around 100,000 Belgians had earlier marched through central Brussels in protest against the new government’s measures. It was the first in a series of demonstrations and strikes planned over coming weeks. Prime Minister Charles Michel invited leaders of Belgium’s three main unions to talks beginning today, but did not offer any obvious concessions.
Belgium’s centre-right government, installed only a month ago, has pledged to raise the retirement age and limit scope for early retirement, cancel an inflation-linked wage hike due next year and cut the health and social security budgets. Unions estimated that around 120,000 workers, from dockers to metalworkers, as well as students, had gathered to protest in the Belgian capital. Police put the number at 100,000.
The unions plan a series of regional strikes every Monday starting on 24 November, culminating in a national strike on 15 December. For today’s march, rail operator SNCB said it had sold 80,000 tickets in advanced group bookings for travel to Brussels. Unions had also booked 500 buses to get protesters to the capital.