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Video: 100,000-Strong Brussels March Against Austerity Ends in Violence

The Belgian capital is the latest European city to experience a large-scale anti-government protest in recent days.

by Sally Hayden
Nov 7 2014, 3:50pm

Image via Reuters

At least 100,000 Belgians took to the streets of Brussels on Thursday to protest against anti-austerity measures, a largely peaceful march which ended in violence between riot police and several hundred demonstrators.

In the city center, cars were overturned and set ablaze, while tear gas and water cannons targeted protesters. Burnt vehicles and knocked-over street signs were left littering the streets after the crowd had cleared.

The initial demonstration was organized by trade unions and left-wing politicians, and lasted about two hours. The issues being contested included the proposed raise of the retirement age from 65 to 67, and cuts to health and social welfare benefits.

Prime Minister Charles Michel has defended the austerity measures, saying that the country is struggling to stay within the acceptable European Union deficit limit.

The leadership have favoured cutting benefits rather than raising taxes, saying that maintaining free-market measures is necessary for the country to remain competitive.

Belgium's system of governance is highly federal. Their current government coalition comprises of the centrist Christian Democrats, and three pro-business parties.

One man whose car was burned was Abdeslam Gharrafi. A crowd funding campaign set up on Friday stated that he works as an electrician, and all his tools were in the vehicle. It said that the car was set alight by "hotheads."

A riot police officer uses spray against protesters. Image via Reuters. 

Several other European cities have seen large-scale protests in recent days.

On Thursday morning, 1,000 students blocked 200 Parisian high schools to protest against police violence, and to remember Rémi Fraisse, a 21-year-old student who died two weeks ago during clashes with French authorities.

Fraisse was killed by a stun grenade thrown by a member of the Gendarmerie — the policing branch of the French army. He was protesting at the site of a controversial dam project at Sivens forest, in the south of France.

Protester Killed After Clash With Riot Police at Disputed Dam Site in France. Read more here.

In London, the activist group Anonymous organized a protest in Trafalgar Square on Wednesday evening. Several thousand people marched from there to Parliament Square, with many wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

One demonstrator told VICE News that they were protesting against "the capitalism ideology and the government," but that a lot of attendees felt that sentiment was undermined by the presence of "rich people," like comedian Russell Brand, who recently published a controversial political polemic Revolution,  and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

He also said that the police blocked their route, leading to a "confrontation."

"Sometimes you had the feeling that there were more policemen there than people doing the protest," he said.

In London, ten people were arrested, three of those on suspicion of assaulting police officers.

'Something has to be done in protest': Tensions escalate as Paris students blockade 20 schools. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd