Brussels bracing for illegal festival amid fears of violence


BRUSSELS — Brussels prosecutor’s office warned potential partygoers they should stay away from an unauthorized gathering planned this weekend in one of the city’s biggest parks as police briefly detained one of the organizers on Tuesday.

After an April Fools’ party drew thousands of people to Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre and ended in clashes with police last month, a sequel to the the event has been advertised by a group called the Abyss for Saturday in the same park.

In a statement Tuesday, prosecutors said the manager in charge of the group’s Facebook page was arrested and questioned as part of an investigation into the party before he got released.

Organizers, who have asked in vain for Belgium’s Interior Ministry to grant them permission to host the event, expressed their “surprise” at the arrest, which came as Belgium continues to struggle with the coronavirus.

The country with 11.5 million inhabitants has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting over 976,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 24,000 virus-related deaths. Earlier this month, the city’s authorities said there was only just one bed left in Brussels’ intensive care units when a fire broke in the working-class neighborhood of Anderlecht, a consequence of the crippling strain on the hospital system.

“I am willing to listen to requests from people who want to organize events, but this is not the time,” Brussels mayor Philippe Close said. “We have to hear what is going on in our hospitals. The situation remains difficult.”

In April, clashes between Belgian police and a large crowd of some 2,000 people left several people injured at the Bois de La Cambre. Violence started after police ordered the crowd to disperse toward the end of the afternoon and revelers threw bottles and other projectiles at police, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

In a bid to avoid a repeat of the incidents, Belgian police have contacted Facebook to find out how to take down from the social network the promotion of Saturday’s party, local media reported. Meanwhile, Brussels prosecutor’s office said that anyone breaching COVID-19 restrictions could be prosecuted.

Amid a growing sense of discontent against coronavirus measures taken by the government, some cafes and restaurant owners in the French-speaking region of Wallonia have also planned to defy restrictions and to reopen their terraces on Saturday, a week before the date set for the reopening.

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