Place de la Bourse, a square in the Belgian capital city of Brussels that has become a memorial to the victims of recent terror attacks, turned into a battle zone on Sunday after several hundreds of far right demonstrators stormed the area to disrupt a peace rally.
The authorities had asked the “March Against Fear” organizers to postpone their memorial service out of security fears. But hundreds of mourners still showed up at the venue to express solidarity with those who lost their loved ones during the horrific explosions that shook the entire city last week.
The march started out peacefully, with attendees laying flowers at the makeshift memorial camp. However, things took an ugly turn when a large group of protesters, all clad in black and many covering their faces, invaded the square carrying alcoholic beverages and anti-Islamic State banners.
The demonstrators not only trampled the flowers and solidarity placards beneath their feet, but also ruined the calm atmosphere by chanting anti-immigrant and Nazi slogans and giving Nazi salutes. As reports indicate, they also lit flares and firecrackers, and confronted ethnic minorities, including Muslim women, present at the shrine.
“It is highly inappropriate that protesters have disrupted the peaceful reflection at the Bourse [stock exchange],” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said in a statement. “I strongly condemn these disturbances.”
The riot police had to use water cannons to disrupt the protesters, dubbed as far right nationalists, effectively putting an end to the entire march altogether.
“They marched into the square and started a major confrontation with the peace protesters,” explained Adrian Liston, who was present at the vigil. “At this point they were really starting to get in the face of the peace protesters, the face of the police, setting off flares, setting off fireworks, and chanting stuff that was really quite ugly.”
Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur was also quick to condemn the incident and the fascist protesters.
“I am appalled at what has happened, to see that such scoundrels come here to provoke people at their place of homage,” Mayeur said.
While the event was sad and unfortunate, it was enough to expose the divide among people in Brussels and their respective responses to terror.