“Pas d’accord!!” … “We don’t agree!” read the slogan. The protester carrying the large red billboard was referring to Belgium’s planned pension reforms.
Opposition to government austerity measures has seen the country hit by a general strike, causing severe disruption to the public sector.
As well as public transport, schools, hospitals and other services such as post offices have been affected.
Firemen in Brussels did use their hoses: targeting the Ministry of Pensions with a volley of water and foam. When police blocked an alleyway, they turned their nozzles on the entrance to the royal park and an office building.
Firemen are particularly angry with the new pension plan, saying it ignores the need of those with physically and mentally demanding jobs to retire early.
In another smaller protest, several demonstrators wore fake white beards and simulated the use of walking frames. The message: that many people would be forced to work longer, into old age, for lower pensions.
“We can understand something has to happen, but not in this way, not in this arrogant way where they say ‘it is going to be like this’ without any consultation. It is going to happen, and that is it, finish. We can not accept that,” said Edna Verhije, a supermarket cashier.
The strike is the first major test for Belgium’s new government. Pension reform is a key part of next year’s budget, aimed at cutting the public deficit to conform to EU rules.