Hundreds protest coronavirus curbs in Brussels

Demonstrators take part in a "freedom" march in Brussels, Belgium, on May 29, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Hundreds of maskless protesters demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions in front of EU buildings in Brussels on Saturday (May 29), with many yelling "Freedom" and claiming Covid-19 was no worse than the flu.

The protest started in a major city park and marched towards a square where EU offices, including the European Commission building, are located.

Belgian police blocked access to the square with barbed wire and a line of 40 officers in riot gear prevented demonstrators moving closer.

A water cannon idled nearby but was not used, and the protest dispersed after around four hours.

"There is no corona(virus). It's just the flu," one demonstrator who gave her first name as Miriam, 48, told AFP.

Like many in the crowd, she was from the neighbouring Netherlands. "Belgium is having a hard time and I'm here for my children," she said.

A half a dozen middle-aged men wore camouflage uniforms and berets but declined to speak to reporters.

Online posts said supporters of a far-right Belgian soldier, Jurgen Conings, who has been on the run for two weeks after stealing weapons from an army base and leaving a letter threatening high-profile figures, were joining the protest.

One of the demonstrators, a Belgian woman in her 20s who declined to give her name, said of the armoured riot police, "It's war they want - look at them, look at us," she said, indicating her light summer clothes.

Belgium is loosening coronavirus restrictions that have been in place for the past seven months as the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations has accelerated and as the number of infections and hospitalisations are slowly falling.

However the wearing of masks is still mandatory, including outdoors, and while outdoor areas of restaurants, cafes and bars are now open, there are limits on how many people can gather together.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.