Thugs disrupt Brussels memorial service
Hundreds of thugs, some wearing balaclavas or plastic masks, pushed their way through crowds of mourners in Brussels city centre on Sunday (27 March).
Scuffles broke out as some of them trampled on flowers and candles which had been placed in tribute to those killed and injured in last week's terrorist attacks.
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The thugs unfolded a banner which said: "Casuals against terrorism".
The term “casuals” refers to far-right football hooligan groups, such as Casuals United from the UK, whose name comes from wearing designer clothes.
Police had escorted the thugs from the Gare du Nord train station in Brussels to La Bourse, the city’s former stock exchange and the main memorial site, according to Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
Their arrival created tension, but uniformed and plain clothes police initially kept their distance.
When asked by EUobserver why they didn't intervene, one plain clothes officer laughed and said that leftist groups also wore masks.
The locals and other visitors stood their ground on the steps of La Bourse and shouted slogans in defence of immigrants.
"One, two, three generations, we are all children of immigrants!”, they shouted in French.
Three hooded men suddenly charged through the crowd, knocking over a young woman, in an attempt to force people off the steps.
Several other men followed their lead, pushing aside mourners and shouting far-right slogans.
Some appeared to make Nazi salutes while others held up their middle finger in defiance.
Some also threw cans of beer at the crowd. One man set off a loud explosion, possibly a firecracker.
The lack of police action prompted anti-police slogans, with some people shouting in French: "Police, complicit!”.
Belgian riot police deployed at the scene shortly afterward. They encircled the hooligans and pushed them down the main road toward the Gare du Nord station.
They then fired water cannon to disperse the group, to applause from bystanders.
Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur said he was scandalised by the incident and demanded a reaction by the federal government, according to Belgian media.
"I am appalled by what is happening, to learn that such thugs have come to provoke residents at the site of their memorial," he said.
The water cannon trucks had arrived in the Bourse area prior to the hooligans, indicating that police expected trouble, but the mourners had not been warned.
A separate march against terrorism, scheduled for Sunday in Brussels, was cancelled over security fears.