Brussels attacks/A nation in mourning

Belgians stand united as 'heart of EU' aches

People observing a minute of silence around a makeshift memorial at Place de la Bourse in Brussels yesterday, a day after blasts hit the Belgian capital, killing 31 people and injuring some 270 others. World leaders united in condemning the carnage a
People observing a minute of silence around a makeshift memorial at Place de la Bourse in Brussels yesterday, a day after blasts hit the Belgian capital, killing 31 people and injuring some 270 others. World leaders united in condemning the carnage and vowed to combat terrorism. Global landmarks from Paris' Eiffel Tower to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate were lit in the black, yellow and red of the Belgian national flag, in a show of solidarity with Belgium.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Crowds converge on Brussels' historic city square to show solidarity, pay homage to victims

BRUSSELS • "Brussels I love you" says a message written in chalk in the Belgian capital's historic city square, a place for celebration that has become a scene of grief after the country's worst terror attack.

Wrapped in their national flag and carrying candles and flowers, Belgians flocked to the Place de la Bourse in the ancient heart of the city to grieve for the dead.

The European Union's symbolic heart was left reeling on Tuesday after extremists massacred 31 people in bombings at the airport in Zaventem and on a metro train.

A lone musician played a cello as a mourner waved a banner reading "United against hate" and another message scrawled on the ground said: "Christians + Muslims + Jews = humanity".

"It's important to get together after moments like these," said Ms Leila Devin, 22. "It shows we're united against terror."

NOT AFRAID

My mother and I came to show we're proud of being Belgian and that we're not scared. Because this morning I was terrified.

MS ANALPHIA DESMET, a 22-year-old communications student,who gathered with others to mourn the victims

STRENGTH IN UNITY

We're here to say we're not scared, there are a dozen of them, but we are thousands.

BELGIAN STUDENT JULIETTE,who joined mourners on the Place de la Bourse

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel joined mourners after sundown and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also paid homage to the dead. "Tonight I am Belgian," he said, full of emotion.

Landmarks around the world, from New York's One World Trade Center to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, were lit up in the black, yellow and red colours of Belgium's national flag in solidarity.

Twitter also lit up with users painting their profile photos in those colours, with the hashtags #Belgium and #PrayForBelgium trending worldwide.

"We are all Belgians," wrote a user called Ulysse.

A stone's throw from the Place de La Bourse, the iconic Manneken Pis statue of a young boy urinating, usually surrounded by tourists waiting to snap pictures, stood abandoned.

"It's sad. It's unfortunate. It's shocking," said Algerian student Sofiane, who had come to pay her respects.

The sound of police and ambulance sirens echoed through the streets throughout the day. By nightfall, however, some signs of normalcy returned. Trains resumed running from the main station and some roads opened up.

And, on the square where the country traditionally celebrates the victories of its "Red Devils" footballers, the crowd continued to swell.

Like for Belgium's football team, the attacks sparked a rare moment of unity in a country normally deeply divided between its French- and Flemish-speaking communities.

"My mother and I came to show we're proud of being Belgian and that we're not scared. Because this morning I was terrified," said Ms Analphia Desmet, a 22-year-old communications student.

As people placed more and more flowers on the square, the crowd joined in singing John Lennon's Imagine.

Mourners waved banners with the words "Brussels is beautiful" and "Je Suis Bruxelles" (I am Brussels) - a reference to the slogan that became a rallying cry after the attacks on Paris' Charlie Hebdo magazine in January last year.

"We're here to say we're not scared," said Belgian student Juliette, then hitting out at the terrorists: "There are a dozen of them, but we are thousands."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Belgians stand united as 'heart of EU' aches'. Print Edition | Subscribe