Ten thousand people turned out for Belgium's largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, but clashes have left police calling for a strike, and virologists concerned over new COVID-19 infections.
Up to ten thousand people turned out to protest police violence at the Brussels edition of Black Lives Matter demos which have crossed the Atlantic and taken place across European capitals.
The demo started calmly with a planned static demonstration beside the imposing Palais de Justice, sparked by solidarity for the movement in the United States.
The death of George Floyd has likened to others in Belgium who died during run-ins with the police.
"I have sons, I am a mother, and I ham here to support the black movement. Women are dying not physically but because of their children, what their children are going through," says Regina.
"It's a worldwide problem, we are not here only for the Europeans," says Diana (a protester), "we are here for the whole world."
Leopold II statue
Peaceful protesters climbed the statue to Belgium's colonial Kind Leopold the second, waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His rule oversaw the deaths of an estimated ten mililon people in what was then the Belgian Congo.
They chanted 'Murderer' and 'reparations'.
Ahead of the protest a petition for the removal of statues glorifying the king had surpassed 50,000 signatures.
Belgium has increasingly had to reckon with its colonial history. Last year the UN called on Belgium to apologise for its colonial past.
“The root causes of present-day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of the violence and injustice of colonization,” the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said in an interim report on Belgium.
Social distancing concerns
While the high turnout at the protest was lauded by human rights activists, virologists were concerned over the numbers present as Belgium slowly lifts lockdown restrictions. Some warned that a new wave of infections could be expected.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes tweeted that while the cause was 'just' that she regretted that an alternative to such a demo could not have been found.
Clashes between a group of young men and police broke out on the Belgian capital Brussels after the peaceful demo had ended.
The initial flash point was down at one end of the road of Chaussee d'Ixelles but later on the police all deployed down to the other side.
Missiles were thrown at the police who deployed water cannon. Officers also used tear gas to try to dispel people who were protesting against police brutality.
Several shop windows were smashed in the violence. Up to 239 arrests were made.
Two police unions SLFP and SNPS have announced a strike in relation to violence against the police.