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Knokke-Heist bans day-trippers 'until further notice'
The Belgian seaside resort of Knokke-Heist is banning day-trippers until further notice, after a similar move on Sunday by Blankenberge due to violence on the beach.
Three of the 17 people arrested during the Blankenberge beach fight on Saturday afternoon will be referred to an investigating magistrate on Monday. They face charges of assault and rebellion and could appear in court as early as Friday.
West Flanders prosecutor Fien Maddens said: "They are suspected of attacking police and the emergency services in a very aggressive way, armed with all kinds of items such as bottles, umbrellas and sunbeds."
Blankenberge turned away day-trippers on Sunday - except for visitors who could prove they had a reservation for the Sea-Life Centre. After a crisis meeting, the coastal municipalities of Bredene, Wenduine and De Haan also set up road checks from 14.00 on Sunday to stop day-trippers.
"There was still room on the beaches, but as the tide rises between 16.00 and 18.00, the beach gets smaller and people get closer," said De Haan mayor Wilfried Vandaele. "We want to avoid situations like in Blankenberge, where people refuse to leave the beach when asked."
Meanwhile, Knokke-Heist will check all vehicles approaching the resort until further notice: "Anyone who does not have a valid reason to be in Knokke will have to turn around immediately."
Valid reasons include being a resident, owning a second home, having an accommodation booking or working in the municipality.
The municipality said police checks on the roads approaching the resort would "inevitably lead to traffic jams". Police handed bottles of water to drivers on the E34 towards Knokke on Sunday, who were stuck in jams because of the local checkpoints.
Ostend had planned to turn away rail day-trippers on Sunday from 11.00, but decided against the ban for fear of making other nearby resorts overcrowded. Instead it imposed a 10,000-person limit, down by a third compared with regular passenger numbers on a sunny day.
West Flanders governor Anne Martens said: "On Saturday, too many people came to the coast: 15,000 in Ostend, 8,000 in Blankenberge and 2,500 in Knokke" - adding that some people "came with bad intentions".
Martens and Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein have both called on the SNCB to run fewer trains to the coast, to limit crowds.
But the SNCB said it had a duty to keep operating trains to the coast. Federal mobility minister François Bellot confirmed that the SNCB "cannot cancel trains on an ad hoc basis without valid reason".
He added: "Reducing the number of trains to the coast goes against the opinions of the coronavirus group of experts and scientists who have pleaded for a maximum supply in order to allow better respect for social distancing."
The rail operator ran seven extra return trips to Ostend and Blankenberge on Sunday, as planned, but warned passengers in advance that they could be turned away by local police on arrival.
The SNCB said running extra trains to the seaside on busy days was important to ensure safe distancing between passengers. But provincial governor Anne Martens said: "In practice they are overloaded and bring more tourists to the coast."
According to the rail operator, trains to Blankenberge ran at just 40% capacity on Sunday, compared to more than 80% on Saturday. Trains to Knokke and De Panne were also below 50% occupancy.
Photo: Kurt Desplenter/Belga