Clashes at Belgian anti-Islam rally

Far-right leaders arrested at banned protest against "Islamisation of Europe".

    Protesters were almost outnumbered by police and reporters [AFP]

    Two leaders from the far-right Vlaams Belang party are among dozens of people arrested by Belgian police during an anti-Islam rally that had been banned by authorities.

    Police clashed with protesters who gathered in Brussels, the Belgian capital, to demonstrate against what they called "the Islamisation of Europe".

    The march on Tuesday was timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York and organisers had predicted about 20,000 people would attend.

    In the end, only one hundredth of that number were reported to have turned up and were nearly outnumbered by reporters and police.

    'Inflammatory group'

    Freddy  Thielemans, the mayor of Brussels, banned the rally last month, calling the organisers, Stop Islamisation of Europe, an inflammatory group and the demonstration a threat to public order.

    Thielmans said police made 154 "administrative arrests".

    "I'm shocked. I thought we lived in a democratic country," Anders Gravers, one of the members of SIOE – a loose alliance that has origins in the UK, Denmark and Germany, said.

    Police confirmed Dewinter and Vanhecke were to be charged for allegedly attacking the driver of an armoured vehicle that they were taken away in.

    The two men are members of the European parliament and two other MEPs were also arrested.

    Terry Davis, the head of the Council of Europe - a watchdog focusing mainly on human rights rather than the EU institution - called the protestors "bigots" and said they were a threat to European values.

    "It is very important to remember that the freedom of assembly and expression can be restricted to protect the rights and freedoms of others, including the freedom of thought, conscience and religion," he said in a statement.

    "This applies to everyone in Europe, including the millions of Europeans of Islamic faith, who were the main target of today's shameful display of bigotry and intolerance."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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