Protesters attacked police vans and hurled paving stones at police officers and blocked streets in Brussels’ EU quarter on Friday as an offshoot of France’s so-called Yellow Jackets movement demonstrated in the Belgian capital.
Police fired water cannon at the protesters and made about 60 arrests, some for carrying weapons, pepper spray and razor blades, a spokesperson said, adding that some activists threw billiard balls at officers.
One police van was ablaze and another lay on its side on Friday afternoon in Rue de la Loi, a major road where several EU institutions are located.
Some protesters wore fluorescent high-visibility vests like those worn by demonstrators in France who have been protesting against a planned rise in gasoline tax. France’s Yellow Jackets are an apparently leaderless grass-roots movement that has shaken the political establishment. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met with protesters’ representatives on Friday afternoon amid calls for new protests the next day across the country.
Belgian protesters said they feel solidarity with their French counterparts and are angry at the cost of fuel and the cost of living in general. Some shouted “Assassin, Michel!” in reference to Charles Michel, the country’s prime minister, while others threw firecrackers in the direction of police officers.
Xavier Picron, a 38 year-old employee of a Belgian pharmaceutical company, said he wore a yellow jacket to “join together” with the French protesters. “The decline of purchasing power, it’s the same for all of us,” Picron said. “The French just do it with more guts than we do.”
His friend, Jeremie Codden, a 41-year-old truck driver, said the price of gas was “the last straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“We pay more taxes, and look at the state of roads in Belgium,” he said.
“The price of gas, food purchase, electricity, transport of electricity, all of that has doubled in a year,” Codden said. “Everything increases and we struggle to make ends meet.”
A female protester said she came to complain about the overall “impoverishment” of citizens and the “staggering” differences of salaries with the country’s elites. “A lot of us have very little to get to the end the month with,” she said. “We want the elites to reduce their salaries.”
Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon called the protests “scandalous.”
“Incomprehensible violence toward the police, who every day do their best to protect citizens and society,” he wrote on Twitter.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Michel told MPs that his government “hears” the message of the Yellow Jackets and intended to “transform the anger into a project with a positive solution.”
Michel also added he was open to discussion but with a “more structured movement.”