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Protest ban in place as Freedom Convoy threatens to descend on Brussels

Traffic seen in the European Quarter of Brussels (Google images)
06:21 11/02/2022

No so-called 'Convoy of Freedom' will be allowed to pass through Belgium into Brussels, according to a joint statement from interior minister Annelies Verlinden, Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort and Brussels mayor Philippe Close.

Any protest convoy, a phenomenon which began in Canada in response to the country's coronavirus restrictions, will be prohibited from entering the capital. Checks will be carried out on all the main roads into Brussels.

"The interior minister Annelies Verlinden, the minister-president Rudi Vervoort and the mayor of Brussels Philippe Close are using federal, regional and local resources to prevent the blocking of the Brussels-Capital Region," the statement read.

In recent days, there have been calls via social media to descend on Brussels on Monday 14 February from all provinces of the country with as many trucks and other vehicles as possible. There are also appeals from other European capitals for protestors to head to Brussels and flood the city.

Anyone who attempts to protest in Brussels will be checked at the Belgian border by the federal police. The Brussels region and the City of Brussels have taken a decision to prohibit demonstrations on their territory for motorised vehicles. In practice, trucks that do come to the capital will be diverted away by the Brussels police zones and the federal police.

Brussels police have already issued a call for citizens to avoid using a car in Brussels from Sunday afternoon. "We already advise everyone to avoid the centre of Brussels and the access roads by car from Sunday afternoon," said a spokesperson for the Brussels police. "We expect the demonstrators from the European capitals to arrive in Brussels from Sunday afternoon."

Opponents of the French government’s corona policies and accompanying restrictions want to block Paris streets from Friday. According to the city's police, no demonstration has been registered and the announced actions threaten to disrupt public order. Truck drivers are warned that blocking a public road can be punished with fines of up to €4,500 and a prison sentence of two years.

The authorities fear that the freedom convoy protest movement that has sprung up on social media could breathe new life into the 'yellow vests' movement. This was a spontaneous popular uprising at the end of 2018 protesting against rising fuel prices and the high cost of living in general. The movement was so widespread that president Emmanuel Macron's government was forced to withdraw a series of measures, such as price increases of diesel and petrol as part of climate policy.

The Federation of Belgian Transporters and Logisticians (Febetra) has already distanced itself from the planned action in Brussels. "We have been informed by the press and the police, but we have absolutely nothing to do with it," said Philippe Degraef, director of Febetra. "What exactly these activists want is not clear to us, and blockades are not our style."

Degraef is convinced that none of the members of the federation will participate. This concerns 1,800 medium-sized and large Belgian companies. In total, there are 10,000 transport companies in Belgium, but there are also many one-person businesses.

On social media, tens of thousands of people are following the freedom convoy movement. How many of them will participate in the protest on Monday, despite the ban, remains difficult to predict.

Written by Nick Amies