Water cannons and tear gas during protests against COVID-19 in Brussels

BRUSSELS – Police fired water cannons and thick clouds of tear gas in Brussels on Sunday to disperse demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions that seek to curb the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The demonstration attracted thousands of people, some coming from France, Germany and other countries to participate. The demonstrators shouted “Freedom!” as they walked. Protesters also marched in Barcelona.

The protests followed demonstrations in other European capitals on Saturday that also drew thousands of protesters against vaccine passports and other demands that European governments have imposed as the omicron variant causes a daily rise in infections. coronavirus and hospitalizations.

In Brussels, white-helmeted riot police have repeatedly charged protesters who ignored dispersal instructions. Trucks of police water cannons fired powerful jets and snaking trails of gas filled the air in the Belgian capital.

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A protest leader broadcasting over a loudspeaker shouted, “Come on people! Don’t let them deprive you of your rights,” as police clashed with protesters who hurled projectiles and insults.

” Damn you ! shouted a protester wearing a mock knight’s helmet with a colorful tuft.

Some protesters harassed a video crew covering the march for the Associated Press, pushing and threatening reporters and damaging their video equipment. One protester kicked one of the reporters and another tried to hit him.

In downtown Barcelona, ​​protesters wore costumes and waved banners reading ‘It’s not a pandemic, it’s a dictatorship’, as they marched against restrictions imposed by national and regional authorities to curb an increase in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant.

Attendees included people who reject vaccines and those who deny the existence or severity of the virus that causes COVID-19. Few people donned face masks, which are currently compulsory outdoors in Spain. Police said 1,100 people attended the protest.

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Spain, a country of 47 million people, has officially recorded more than 9 million cases of coronavirus, although the actual number is thought to be much higher. Nearly 92,000 people have died in Spain since the start of the pandemic.

With more than 80% of Spanish residents vaccinated, experts and authorities credited the vaccines with saving many lives and the total collapse of its public health system.

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Follow all AP pandemic stories at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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