BELGIUM: Probe launched into ‘unacceptable violence’ by police against Extinction Rebellion activists

(The Brussels Times) By Gabriela Galindo

Protesters gathered in the square were dispersed by police using teargas and water cannons. Credit: © Belga

An investigation will seek to determine whether police used excessive force against protesters taking part in an Extinction Rebellion protest in downtown Brussels at the weekend [of 12 October].

The Brussels-Ixelles police zone launched an investigation after images surfaced of an officer tear-gassing a demonstrator who was already on the ground during the environmental group’s protest on Saturday [12 October].

“This is not usual practice,” police spokesperson Olivier Slosse said of the incident, adding that the use of tear gas by the officer in question was in “non-compliance with the usual use of the tool.”

Brussels alderman Benoit Hellings took to Facebook to denounce the incident, saying that officers’ “violent acts” raised “serious questions” which he would raise the issue with Brussels Mayor Philippe Close.

One protester pictured in a widely circulated image being sprayed by a police officer said via a Facebook account that the image in question was not an instance of abusive use of tear-gas by officers.

Calling on others to “remain critical,” the man said that the officer in question was applying an anti-tear gas product to relieve him of his discomfort.

Slosse said an investigation into police’s wider use of tear gas and water cannons will seek to determine whether excessive use of force was made during the demonstration, which was deemed a success by organisers.

At least 400 demonstrators occupied the Place Royale square as part of the “Royal Rebellion,” a staged act of protest to call on urgent environmental action in the face of what the group deem a looming “climate breakdown.”

The demonstration was one of a string of similar protests taking place worldwide which saw members and sympathisers of the environmental action group stage disruptive protests in an effort to denounce political inaction on climate change.

Originally meant to take place in the Royal Gardens, the demonstration moved to the square as protesters’ access to the gardens was denied, since no political acts may take place on royal grounds.

The gathering quickly turned rowdy, with a total of 435 demonstrators arrested as police made use of pepper spray and water cannons to dislodge protesters blocking the routes of several tram lines that pass through the square.

‘Unacceptable violence’

The group deemed the demonstration on Saturday a “success beyond all expectations,” sharing pictures of the hundreds of attendees occupying the square and taking part in assemblies.

“The Royal Rebellion start was amazing! We were able to gather a lot of people and to hold assemblies in the heart of Brussels,” an Extinction Rebellion statement published on Facebook read.

But several observers echoed the activist group’s denunciation of police, calling their intervention “over the top.”

The group said that despite the “brutal” and “unacceptable police violence” that ended the demonstration, they would keep pushing Belgium’s leaders to act on climate.

“Extinction Rebellion Belgium is determined, we will continue to protest and develop until the Belgian state responds to our demands,” the group said in a statement.

Saturday’s protest comes as the group in Belgium and across Europe organise increasingly disruptive protests in an effort to push world leaders to take bold action against climate change and to reform a fossil fuel-based economy perceived as aggravating the problem.