7 November 2005
BRUSSELS — Vandals set fire to five cars in central Brussels on Sunday night, but officials quickly downplayed any link to the wave of violence sweeping neighbouring France.
Belgian police said the vehicles were destroyed near the Brussels South train station, an area with a large immigrant population.
"We are talking about arson," police spokesman Albert Roossens told news agency AFP.
The cars were parked in the Romestraat, the Hollandstraat and Jacques Francksquare. The fires were lit shortly before 11pm and fire brigade authorities were called in. No injuries were reported.
Police said there were no clashes between youth and police and no arrests were made. There were several groups of youths sighted in the area, but the situation remained calm, Flemish newspaper 'De Standaard' reported.
A spokesman for the government's crisis centre said it was keeping a close eye on the violence in France, but that there had been "no similar events" in Belgium. He said Sunday's arson attacks were "local" incidents.
The statement comes after rioting in France escalated on Sunday as more than 30 police were injured and 1,400 cars were torched across the country.
It was the worst night of violence since the unrest began 11 days ago.
The Brussels South train station is located near Anderlecht, where riots between immigrants and security forces took place in 1997 after the arrest of a drug dealer.
And the atmosphere is becoming tense once again in Anderlecht, plus problem districts in Molenbeek and Sint-Gillis, Flemish public broadcaster VRT reported.
Anderlecht social affairs official Walter Van den Bossche said high unemployment is causing despair among youth.
"One third of all young people in Brussels are unemployed, making the situation very explosive. The ongoing media coverage of the riots in Paris is an important factor too", he said.
However, a Brussels ULB academic Andrea Rea downplayed the risk Belgian cities will be hit by similar scenes of violence witnessed in and around Paris.
He said jobless youth often live in ghettos in France, claiming also that the situation is different in Belgium: "Segregation is not as big here".
Rea said further that "social control within a community is bigger in Belgium than in France" and that mayors are much closer to the public.
Ethnic minorities in large Belgian cities are better represented on a political level as well, giving the community a better feeling of recognition, the professor said further.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news
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