A peaceful memorial dedicated to the victims of the Brussels Attacks in Brussels was frighteningly interrupted Sunday when riot police had to disperse a large group of protesters, a large number of whom were seen repeatedly making Nazi salutes.
While hundreds of people initially gathered peacefully at the Place de la Bourse to remember the victims of the attacks from last week, riot police and water canons were soon deployed after many protesters interrupted the memorial and confronted Muslim women in the crowds, lighting flares and firecrackers and made various different Nazi salutes.
The protesters wasted no time in letting the crowd know that they considered the act of memorializing by laying flowers in remembrance to be trivial, and that more nationalist measures were needed in response to the attacks.
“We don’t believe in candles and flowers. That is for the dead,” one protester identifying as Mario told the Telegraph, “We want answers from the government. There are too many fanatics in this country.”
— Ali Kheradpir (@AliKheradpir) March 27, 2016
— Dana Regev (@Dana_Regev) March 27, 2016
— Thomas Daigle (@thomasdaigle) March 27, 2016
Local media said about 450 protesters aggressively faced off with riot police in front of the city’s stock exchange building. As tensions amounted, police used water cannons to control the right-wing nationalists, many of whom came from Antwerp, where Islamophobic and nationalist ideologies are considered to be more prevalent.
While Belgian leaders criticized the protesters and in the interruption of the memorial gathering, it nonetheless was a staunch reflection of a growing right-wing extremist, Islamophobic sentiment that has been growing in the country for the past few years, exacerbated by events like the Paris and Brussels attacks.
“I am appalled at what has happened, to see that such scoundrels come here to provoke people at their place of homage, ” said Yvan Mayeur, the mayor of Brussels.
Adam Liston, who attended the memorial at the Place de la Bourse, originally told the BBC that there had been a “positive atmosphere” earlier in the day. “Then a bunch of skinheads turned up, marched into the square, and started a major confrontation with the peace protesters.”