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Anti-Islam protest in Molenbeek banned

March 31, 2016

Authorities have barred a far-right group from conducting a planned anti-Islam demonstration in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. Officials said they feared the protests could spark violent clashes.

Belgien Polizisten bei einer Festnahme in Molenbeek
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Belga Photo/D. Waem

With the city of Brussels still on edge after last week's terror attacks, authorities have banned far-right extremists from holding a planned anti-Islam rally in the troubled neighborhood of Molenbeek.

The French far-right youth group Generation Identitaire had posted a message on their website invoking members to march through the neighborhood Saturday under the banner "Let's expel the Islamists!"

Molenbeek, an impoverished and largely Muslim neighborhood in the Belgian capital, has long been viewed as a hotbed of Islamist extremism. Earlier this month, Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in November's Paris terror attacks, was arrested in the neighborhood near his family home.

Molenbeek mayor Francoise Schepmans said the decision to prohibit the demonstration came after consultations with police and other local officials.

"If we had let it happen, there could have been clashes," Schepmans told news agency AFP.

The regional Brussels government will issue an order prohibiting "any demonstration or counter-demonstration in connection with this call to protest," said Mustafa Er, an aide to Schepmans.

A total of 32 people were killed during in the March 22 terror attacks at Brussels airport and a metro station. The so-called "Islamic State" group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police official investigated

Meanwhile, Belgian police are facing fresh criticism over their handling of terror investigations in the wake of November's Paris attacks. Police launched an inquiry Wednesday after media reported a senior officer arrived drunk to a meeting following the terror attacks.

The newspaper La Derniere Heure reported that the meeting on the evening of the attacks was held to discuss pressing issues, decide on where to increase surveillance and examine police staff levels.

A police spokesperson confirmed an inquiry was being conducted but declined to provide details.

bw/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)