Partiers protest Belgium’s virus rules medics demand support

BRUSSELS — Thousands of protesters angry at pandemic-related restrictions marched to European Union headquarters in Brussels on Saturday and had minor tussles with police over their unauthorized gathering.

The crowd initially assembled in a Brussels park for a party designed to flout Belgium’s COVID-19 rules and a related gathering calling for Europeans to claim back their freedom. Participants then marched to the district of the Belgian capital that houses key EU buildings.

Police officers blocked them and had dispersed the marchers by early evening after minor scuffles.

Similar anti-lockdown parties in recent weeks in the La Cambre woods drew thousands of people and led to clashes with police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse rowdy crowds, resulting in numerous arrests and injuries.

Belgium was especially hard-hit by the virus, and while hospitalization and death rates are improving as vaccinations rise, the country still has strict rules banning most gatherings and requiring facemasks in large crowds.

Earlier Saturday, about 1,000 health care workers demonstrated at an authorized protest in Brussels to demand more financial support and hospital staff after a coronavirus-dominated year.

“We are tired because the COVID crisis led to more working hours in hospitals, less hours to rest. A lot of time off has been canceled to take care of patients,” aid Justine Lombard, a doctor’s assistant who took part in Saturday’s rally. “That was normal, and everybody was happy to do it because it is our job, this is what we signed on for, but people have to realize that this situation cannot last any longer.”