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New year celebrations: Police injured in Brussels, 160 arrests made
Belgians rang in the new year differently across the country, but in Brussels and Antwerp in particular, some celebrations got out of hand.
On New Year's Eve in Brussels, 690 police interventions were carried out, half of them in the city centre, resulting in 160 arrests.
Twenty-one of the arrests were judicial ones, while the rest of them were administrative, according to police. Officers were also the target of harassment and assault, with people throwing projectiles at them throughout the night.
Police were not the only authorities busy in the Belgian capital, either. Firefighters and paramedics for the Brussels SIAMU conducted more than 170 interventions, including six for burning vehicles.
“Our personnel got through this turbulent night without physically getting hurt,” SIAMU said in a press release.
“Psychologically is another story, because it’s difficult to understand the absurdity of the situation, with emergency workers unable to work in complete safety, sometimes even having to leave firefighting equipment behind to get to safety.”
In one incident, after a person fell from a fourth-floor balcony in Saint Gilles, emergency workers trying to resuscitate the person “were bombarded with fireworks and had to withdraw. The police had to secure the place.”
Attacks on firefighters in Brussels have become increasingly common, SIAMU said, and the new year celebrations were no exception.
One reason the disorder was concentrated in the city centre was because the New Year’s Eve fireworks display drew “no less than 50,000 spectators attending the fireworks display,” according to one press release.
Public transport also experienced disruption due to police responding to emergencies and acts of vandalism.
The night saw many fires set, including to e-scooters, trees or vegetation, rubbish and rubbish containers. Three bicycles, 26 cars, six mopeds and a football field were also set on fire.
Antwerp, too, saw its share of disorder. Some 11 people were admitted to hospitals due to injuries caused by handling fireworks, mainly third degree burns. One person is even in intensive care, according to a spokesman for the Antwerp hospital network.
Other emergency rooms treated patients who were injured in fights or suffering from alcohol poisoning.
More than 50 arrests were made in Antwerp, including 39 administrative arrests for public disorder related offences. Fourteen people were judicially arrested for, among other things, assaulting an officer or carrying a weapon. Bikes and a vehicle were also set on fire.
Police vehicles were damaged in the chaos and just as in Brussels, officers were pelted with stones and other projectiles. Police used a water cannon to disburse a particularly unruly crowd.
While Brussels’ fireworks display drew 50,000, the one in Antwerp is estimated to have attracted a crowd of 140,000, most of whom watched along the banks of the river Scheldt.
In Ghent, the scene was somewhat more subdued: 24 administrative arrests were made along with 31 fines issued, mostly for unlawful possession of fireworks or pyrotechnic material.
As in Brussels and Antwerp, police and emergency workers found themselves targeted by people launching projectiles and even fireworks at them.
“We had a street presence, so we were able to prevent some of the incidents from getting out of hand,” a police spokesperson said, adding that “three bus shelters were damaged or destroyed”.
When it comes to the unlawful possession of fireworks, police discovered that illegal trading was taking place in a Brussels night shop. When raided, a total of 992 fireworks were found.
The seller was taken in for questioning, whereupon he claimed to have bought the fireworks in Poland. He will appear in court later in the month. In the meantime, the fireworks have been confiscated and will be destroyed.
For Belgians celebrating the new year’s arrival in a more subdued manner, text messages and mobile phone calls to loved ones matched in number those of years prior.
About 12.5 million SMS messages were exchanged on the Belgian network between 20.00 on Saturday and 8:00 on Sunday, according to data collected by the country's two main operators, Proximus and Orange.
Proximus processed more than 7.1 million text messages during the new year's celebrations, twice as many as on a normal night in 2022.
Orange recorded 5.4 million texts sent, with a peak of 977 messages per second at midnight.
But for both operators, SMS traffic has halved in four years, with Orange noting that people seem to prefer to call each other with season’s greetings.
More than five million telephone conversations were made on the Orange network in 12 hours, an increase of 57% compared to the same period a year ago.
A similar finding was made by Proximus with 4.2 million mobile calls (up 57%), a total that reached pre-Covid levels.
“This could indicate that people are again partying away from home more often,” the provider said.
When it comes to mobile data, Proximus reports an increase of almost 20% in mobile data exchanged overnight compared to last year.
The increase is 26% at Orange, which added that the most popular applications for exchanging holiday greetings are Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.