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RIOT police in Brussels used water cannon yesterday to disperse a crowd defying a ban on a gathering of controversial far-right figures which critics called an “anti-semitic hatefest.”
Citing a threat to public order, Brussels district of Anderlecht Mayor Eric Tomas had banned both the meeting and any protests connected to it.
But organisers of the European Dissidents’ Congress, a right-wing extremist group called Debout les Belges, urged supporters to gather for “a surprise,” sparking the standoff with riot police.
Several hundred people who had planned to attend the meeting gathered in Anderlecht, watched by a line of riot police, while the organisers appealed to Belgium’s top administrative court, which did not immediately rule.
“It’s over. Everyone should disperse calmly,” said Laurent Louis, the far-right MP and founder of Debout les Belges, after police forcefully broke up the crowd of about 500 protesters without making arrests.
The event was to bring together a string of far-right figures, including so-called comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has faced repeated accusations of anti-semitism, Holocaust denial and incitement to racial hatred.
Organisers had kept the venue a secret until the last moment to prevent it from being closed down and immediately challenged the ban before Belgium’s state council and around 200 rightwingers rallied in Anderlecht early on Sunday afternoon, many performing the infamous quenelle gesture which opponents have characterised as a neonazi salute.
The Belgian League against anti-Semitism had filed a complaint before the Brussels prosecutor on Friday against what it called “a day of hate, that would serve as a platform for the worst gathering of anti-semitic authors, theorists and propagandists that our country has seen since the end of World War II.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre rallied behind the calls for a ban.
“The fact that this hatefest is to be held in Brussels, the capital of Europe, the seat of its Parliament … is a threat to democracy reminiscent of the 1920s Weimar Republic, which brought Europe to the nazi abyss,” centre director for international relations Shimon Samuels warned.
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