Hundreds of angry fishermen, mostly from France and Italy, hurled stones at the police and fired flares at European Union buildings Wednesday, June 4, during a protest in Brussels against rising gas prices.
The protests were peaceful at first
Police estimated the number of protesters at around 250, but demonstrators said law enforcement agents had prevented hundreds of others from Spain and Portugal from reaching the Belgian capital.
Flares fired by the fishermen damaged the headquarters of the European Commission and smashed windows of a nearby building hosting EU translators. Police in anti-riot gear moved to disperse the crowd and used water cannons to extinguish burning banners.
Many of the surrounding streets were cordoned off with barbed wire.
At least one policeman was slightly injured in the clashes, which took place while a delegation of about 30 fishermen was meeting EU officials.
Down with diesel
The protesters have called for diesel prices to be reduced to 40 cents per liter ($0.62), with one Italian banner reading: "We can't keep up with the pace of petrol."
"We have to find a solution for fuel that is compatible with European Union (rules)," said Pierre D'Acunto, a French protester.
Officials from the EU's executive, the Commission, say there are "no short term solutions" to the problem of soaring fuel prices, insisting instead that fishing fleets should restructure rather than demand aid.
"Any specific remedy should reflect long-term structural problems and should not run counter to them," said Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.
Are ships the problem?
Last week, EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said European fisheries would only have a future if member states, industry and the EU executive worked together to create "smaller, more fuel-efficient fleets."
Fishermen across Europe have staged demonstrations in protest at soaring fuel prices, which the commission says has pushed the price of marine diesel up by 240 percent since 2004. The Commission, which is responsible for setting annual limits on the amount and type of fish which EU fishermen catch, regularly comes under fire from the fishing industry, which accuses the Brussels body of setting unfairly low quotas and overloading it with complex legislation.