Police fire water cannon at far-right protesters at Brussels shrine

Riot police surround the makeshift memorial to victims of the Brussels attacks as nationalist demonstrators disturb the peaceful rally on Place de la Bourse square in Brussels on March 27, 2016.
Riot police surround the makeshift memorial to victims of the Brussels attacks as nationalist demonstrators disturb the peaceful rally on Place de la Bourse square in Brussels on March 27, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Rioters confront police near Place de la Bourse, who used cannons and pepper spray on them.
Rioters confront police near Place de la Bourse, who used cannons and pepper spray on them. ST PHOTO: TAN DAWN WEI
Riot police using water cannons on rioters at Roi Albert II Boulevard.
Riot police using water cannons on rioters at Roi Albert II Boulevard.ST PHOTO: TAN DAWN WEI
A rioter is arrested by the police.
A rioter is arrested by the police.ST PHOTO: TAN DAWN WEI

BRUSSELS - Police fought far-right protesters who turned up at a square in central Brussels on Sunday (March 27), where people had gathered to mourn victims of Belgium’s worst-ever terror attacks last Tuesday (March 22).

This was as Europe’s security agencies hunted for eight suspects believed to have assisted in these and the Paris attacks in November, and Belgian police detained four suspects after 13 raids on Sunday.

A solidarity march planned for Sunday had been postponed at the request of the authorities for safety reasons and to ease the load of the strained police force.

But about 200 far-right protesters, mostly young men in black, stormed the Place de la Bourse memorial site shouting anti-Muslim slogans and displaying the Nazi salute.

They also chanted: "Belgian hooligans. We are at home."

Riot police moved in and pushed out the protesters using water cannons. Some protesters got violent and hurled whatever they could get their hands on - plants, garbage, bottles and cans - at the officers. Some were pinned on the ground by police who later arrested 10 of them.

By 4.10pm local time (10.10pm Singapore time), the protesters were dispersed, but not before leaving a trail of rubbish on the roads. Cleaners were quickly dispatched to clean up the mess.

Last Tuesday’s bomb attacks at the Brussels airport and a metro station killed 31 - including three suicide bombers - and injured 340 people, of whom 101 remained in hospital on Sunday, 62 in intensive care.

Belgian prosecutors have charged a second man linked to a foiled terror plot in France. Abderamane A. was shot in the leg by the police on Friday (March 18) after a stand-off at a tram stop in Brussels.

The development comes a day after prosecutors brought similar charges on an accomplice and two other men for the Brussels attacks.

Italy’s anti-terrorism police also captured Algerian Djamal Eddine Ouali, 40, in Bellizzi, a town in Salerno province in southern Italy, the ANSA news agency reported.

He is wanted in Belgium for allegedly providing false papers that allowed Salah Abdeslam, Mohamed Belkaid and Najim Laachroui to enter Brussels after their deadly Paris operation, hiding out here for months before the Belgian police tracked them down.

Belkaid was killed in a shootout with the police while Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. Laachroui blew himself up at Brussels airport last Tuesday along with Ibrahim el-Bakraoui.

Police found Ouali’s name on documents in a raid in a Brussels apartment last October, which included photos and aliases of some of the militants involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Apart from the four detained on Sunday, a number of arrests had been made in earlier raids, including that of Faycal Cheffou, whom investigators believe is the man captured by surveillance camera at Brussels airport wearing a hat. He is believed to have been on the run since the Tuesday attacks.

Cheffou was charged on Saturday (March 26) for terrorism activities after police followed him and arrested him outside the federal prosecutor’s office on Thursday (March 24) night.

Belgian media reported that Cheffou, said to be a freelance journalist, had been detained previously at a park when he tried to promote religious extremism to refugees camped there.

The airport, meantime, has installed temporary check-in desks and could reopen as early as Tuesday (May 29), after engineers said the structure of the building was stable.