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'Irresponsible': Police break up illegal street parties in Ixelles and Anderlecht
Hundreds of people gathered at illegal street parties in Anderlecht and Ixelles this weekend, flouting Belgium's coronavirus measures. In both cases, no arrests were made or fines issued.
"This phenemenon is going to multiply," the mayor of Ixelles warned on Sunday, announcing a zero-tolerance approach to such gatherings with immediate effect.
Videos shared on social media show several hundred people partying on Place Sainte-Croix, next to the Flagey building, after the local bars closed on Saturday night.
A Brussels Capital-Ixelles police spokewoman said officers played cat and mouse with partygoers for "a good part of the night". She said: "We invited people to move on. They just assembled elsewhere. Each time, the rules on physical distancing were not respected."
Meanwhile, about 500 people joined a party on Saturday night on Rue Dante in Anderlecht, with a bonfire and loud music. Police initially allowed the event to go ahead, only deciding to break up the party at 5.00 on Sunday morning after one of the partygoers was injured by the bonfire.
"We learned on Saturday afternoon that a carnival was being organised in the Marolles and that some of the participants were planning a procession through Saint-Gilles to Anderlecht," local mayor Fabrice Cumps said.
"The participants split up after the carnival but gathered together again on industrial land in Anderlecht around midnight. We decided, in agreement with the local police chief, to let the bonfire and music take place. After a risk analysis carried out by police, it was agreed that it was better to let the party take place."
Cumps said partygoers complied when they were later asked to leave. "We decided it was inappropriate to use force to disperse people," he added.
Ixelles mayor Christos Doulkeridis said what happened at Flagey on Saturday evening was "irresponsible for health reasons, and disrespectful to local residents".
"The 1.00 closing time for bars and restaurants is respected in Ixelles, with very few exceptions, but some people choose not to accept the rule and try to circumvent it, either in public or in private homes rented via Airbnb," Doulkeridis said.
"I am sounding the alarm because this phenomenon is going to multiply. It's the start of the summer, it’s the end of exams and the weather is nice. It's not acceptable for Place Flagey to become the biggest nightclub in the country."
Brussels Capital-Ixelles police chief Michel Goovaerts said officers would reinforce their spot checks over the coming days - and urged everyone to "use common sense". The police force said on Twitter: "We will ensure strict compliance with the rules."
Belgium's national security council will discuss the issue when it next meets, this Wednesday. Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort said: "The relaxation of the rules should absolutely not lead to negligence.
"People need to be civic-minded. We must all continue to follow the measures. Gatherings of more than 10 people, where a physical safety distance is not possible, should be avoided at all times."
Virologist Marc Van Ranst said police needed to "act a little earlier" and anticipate illegal gatherings before they happen. He said of the partygoers involved: "Haven't they learnt anything from the past few months?"
Interfederal spokesman Yves Van Laethem said: "What happened on Place Flagey and in Anderlecht is the antithesis of what we want. Hundreds of people close to each other, who speak and sing, who have no masks, who have not washed their hands recently. This is the very thing that we are trying to avoid."
"Even if the virus does not circulate very much, as we can see in the figures, it is still present."
Virologist Emmanuel André said on Twitter: "Covid-19 will take advantage of every opportunity to regain its strenght. Now is not the time to be partying."