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Mayor Close defends police action during Extinction Rebellion protest
According to Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close (PS), the police aggression against protestors on Place des Palais on Saturday was “unfortunately necessary”. The protest “was not approved and yet was tolerated for a full four hours”.
Close held an emergency meeting this morning with two city councillors to discuss the police response to the Extinction Rebellion protest. The climate crisis group, founded in the UK and with chapters around the world, staged an illegal protest in front of the Royal Palace on Saturday.
The protestors did not have a permit and also staged the protest on neutral territory where demonstrations and marches are never allowed to take place. About 1,000 people showed up.
Several city councillors, members of the press and social media users denounced the use of tear gas, a water cannon and batons used against largely peaceful protestors. The force used to disperse and arrest protestors was “excessively violent,” according to the organisers of the event.
Police earlier in the day had arrested 12 protestors who were occupying the gardens of the Royal Palace, which is private property. The protestors were demanding that the king meet with them and declare a climate emergency.
Those protestors were arrested, along with another 100 or so who tried to storm the garden later in the day. In total, some 435 people were arrested. All of them have since been released.
Protestors and politicians are concerned about the aggressiveness of police during the arrests, especially as minors were present. “This is unacceptable,” said council member Mathilde El Bakri (PTB). “How is it possible that a city that three weeks ago declared a climate emergency now inflicts violence on climate activists?” She has issued an invitation to all activists present that day to attend the city council meeting on 21 October.
‘Everyone was warned’
Police have defended their actions. “The police were willing to allow the protest to continue on the condition that public transport was allowed to pass through unhindered,” said police spokesperson Olivier Slosse. “That was refused. In addition to that, several protestors were trying to block the streets around the square, and that is why we used tear gas and a water cannon. We did communicate beforehand that we would use force if the people did not disperse. So the rules of play were not respected.”
Close agrees, telling Bruzz today that he gave the order to clear the square with force. “We needed to free up the tram tracks, and the protestors refused, so specific means were used,” he said. “I always give instructions to warn the protestors ahead of time. Everyone was warned.”
In response to the complaint that a two-year-old got tear gas in his face, Close said that that was the fault of the parents. “When we ask protestors to disperse at the threat of arrests, then parents should no longer be there.”
Photo: Antony Gevaert/BELGA