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Clashes at Brussels anti-migration demo

December 16, 2018

Around 5,500 people have rallied in the European quarter in the Belgian capital against the new UN migration pact. Prime Minister Charles Michel's decision to support the accord has left the government in disarray.

A number of Belgian right-wing associations participated in the "March against Marrakesh" in Brussels to protest a UN migration pact, which was adopted at an international conference in Marrakesh
Image: picture-alliance/R. A. Fernandez

Thousands of people marched through Brussels on Sunday in opposition to a United Nations pact aimed at boosting cooperation over migration.

Police said some 5,500 people took part in the protest, organized by Flemish right-wing parties in the part of the Belgian capital where the main European Union institutions are located.

Tear gas and water cannon were deployed when scuffles broke out between protesters and police after projectiles and firecrackers were thrown at officers.

EU break-in averted

At one point, some 300 to 400 people tried to force their way into the European Commission building, Brussels Mayor Philippe Close told the Belga news agency. Sixty-nine people were detained over damage to property.

Read more: What is the UN migration pact — and why do some oppose it?

The marches included many supporters of the right-wing populist Vlaams Belang party, with some carrying banners bearing slogans such as "Our people first" and "We have had enough, close the borders."

A counterdemonstration arranged by left-wing groups and non-governmental organizations took place in the city center, drawing a crowd of about a thousand people.

Both rallies were initially barred over fears of public disorder but one of the country's highest courts overturned the decision.

Anti-migrant protests wave banner
More than 5,000 protesters turned out on Sunday in opposition to the UN's new migration pactImage: Reuters/F. Lenoir

Political crisis erupts

Sunday's rallies took place days after the biggest party in Belgium's parliament, the right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), pulled out of the ruling coalition after Prime Minister Charles Michel insisted on signing the compact during a UN migration summit in Morocco last week.

The move, ahead of federal elections in May, left Michel leading a minority administration and led to calls for his resignation. Some opposition parties have called for a vote of confidence in the government.

The UN's non-binding migration pact was agreed in July by all 193 UN members except the United States, but only 164 formally signed it at the meeting in Marrakech last Monday.

New migration wave feared

The accord has reignited division among European Union states, with many fearing it could stoke a new wave of migration. Politicians have hailed the recent decline in new arrivals from Africa and the Middle East in the wake of the 2016 migrant crisis.

Despite critics warning it could encourage uncontrolled migration, Pope Francis on Sunday voiced his support for the agreement and urged the international community to show "responsibility, solidarity and compassion" in dealing with migrants.

The pontiff stressed the pact was designed to secure "safe, ordered and regular migration."

mm/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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