World Cup: Riots break out in Brussels after Belgium’s surprising loss to Morocco

Rioters set fire to electric scooters and threw bricks at other vehicles. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS – Riots erupted in the heart of Brussels and several other Belgian cities on Sunday after Belgium’s shock 2-0 World Cup defeat by Morocco.

Video footage shared online showed crowds overturning and setting ablaze a car in Brussels, the capital of Belgium which is home to around 500,000 people of Moroccan descent.

Local reports said rioters also set fire to electric scooters and threw bricks at other vehicles. A Brussels police spokesman, Ilse Van de Keere, told reporters that one person was injured.

It was not immediately clear if the protests were between rival fans of the teams.

Even before the end of the match, “dozens of people, including some wearing hoodies, sought confrontation with the police, which compromised public safety,” Brussels police said in a statement.

A spokesman said some fans were armed with sticks and a journalist “was injured in the face by fireworks”.

In response, around a hundred police officers were mobilised and they deployed water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, videos showed. Residents were warned to avoid certain areas of the city centre.

Metro stations were closed and streets sealed off to limit the spread of the violence. A surveillance helicopter flew over the city before calm was restored at around 7pm.

Police said that 11 people had been arrested, with one remaining in custody.

Brussels Mayor Philippe Close said in posts on Twitter that he strongly condemned the incidents. He advised football fans to stay away from the city centre.

“The police are doing everything they can to maintain public order,” he added.

In the eastern city of Liege, a gang of 50 people attacked a police station, breaking windows and damaging two police vehicles. The police there also resorted to water cannon.

The city of Antwerp also saw an eruption of violence after the match.

Police in the neighbouring Netherlands said that riots had also broken out in Rotterdam, a port city; the Dutch capital, Amsterdam; and the Hague. Footage shared online showed charred vehicles in the middle of one street.

Riot police officers in Rotterdam tried to break up a group of about 500 football supporters who had tossed fireworks and glass at officers, according to authorities. Police later said they had made two arrests so far.

The Netherlands’ large Moroccan community burst into celebrations, lighting torches and fireworks and driving around hooting car horns and waving Moroccan flags shortly after the match ended. Goals from Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed the Group F encounter in favour of the lower-ranked African side.

The Qatar World Cup has had several upsets, with Japan topping Germany 2-1 and Argentina falling to Saudi Arabia by the same scoreline before coming back to beat Mexico 2-0 and resurrect their chances of advancing. NYTIMES, AFP, REUTERS

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