Belgian police fired water cannons on Sunday to disperse demonstrators opposed to mandatory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 8,000 people marched in Brussels towards the headquarters of the European Union chanting “Freedom! and launch fireworks.
The crowd was smaller than the 35,000 vaccine and lockdown skeptics who marched last month.
Protesters were prevented from reaching the roundabout outside the EU headquarters by a barricade of barbed wire and a line of riot officers.
As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, they launched fireworks and cans of beer. Police responded with water cannons and tear gas.
As the crowd dispersed into small groups around the European Quarter, clashes escalated and some set fire to garbage barricades.
Events in European cities
Several European countries have seen protests in recent weeks as governments respond to an increase in COVID cases with tighter restrictions.
Organizers of Sunday’s protests hoped to match the protest on November 21, in which police appeared to be caught off guard as the rally turned violent.
Protesters have opposed mandatory health measures, such as masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes, and some share conspiracy theories.
Banners on Sunday compared the stigma of the unvaccinated to the treatment of Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.
“Covid = organized genocide,” said a sign. “The QR code is a swastika,” said another, referring to the EU’s COVID security digital certificate.
“I cannot stand any form of discrimination, and now there is the vaccine pass which is discriminatory, the penalties for [unvaccinated] caregivers who are also discriminatory, there is the compulsory vaccination which is directed towards us, declared a demonstrator, the professor of martial arts Alain Sienaort, quoted by the press agency Reuters.
“It’s just discrimination, so we have to fight it. We don’t want a dictatorship.
Parents, some of whom brought young children to the protest, chanted their belief that the vaccine would make their toddlers sick.
Uniformed firefighters who were not on duty marched at the head of the protest as it made its way through town, demanding the right to refuse vaccination.
The measures imposed to tackle COVID in Belgium were decided by the country’s national and regional governments, but the European Union has also drawn the ire of skeptics.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that she felt it was time to “think about compulsory vaccination”, a suggestion which was denounced by speakers at the protest.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo on Friday announced a series of measures to toughen health rules, bringing the Christmas school holidays forward and asking children six and over to wear masks.
Belgium, with a population of 11 million, has recorded an average of more than 17,800 daily COVID-19 infections over the past seven days, as well as 44 deaths.
About 800 people with severe forms of the disease are in intensive care in hospitals across the country, resulting in overcrowding and the postponement of treatment for many other ailments.
Separately, Austrian police said some 40,000 people gathered in the capital Vienna on Saturday to denounce a lockdown due to go into effect on Monday and compulsory vaccination from February.
Protesters carried signs saying “No to vaccination warrants” or “Jesus protects children, not vaccines”. Many have ignored the mask requirements.
Four police officers were injured during the arrest of a drunken protester, police said.
Protests were also reported across Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands over the weekend.