Is Brussels a war zone? Call and find out

8th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Terror alerts and links to the Paris attacks have given Brussels unwelcome publicity in recent weeks, but tourist chiefs have come up with a solution: call locals direct and ask them whether or not it's safe.

Tourist agency VisitBrussels on Friday set up three yellow outdoor telephone booths at key spots in the Belgian and EU capital to which people from around the world can call and get the scoop.

One of the phones is just metres (yards) from the family home of Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam in the district of Molenbeek, where police have carried out several raids since November.

"You have to come here to Molenbeek to really know what's happening," Molenbeek resident Siham El-Sihan said after marching up to the phone and answering a call from an AFP reporter.

"It's an image that people have without knowing. They're just opinions with no proof. I live here and we are bit like a big family," she said, her conversation caught and broadcast simultaneously online by a nearby camera.

The campaign is to last through Monday with phones at three locations, including the Mont des Arts museum district and the trendy Place Flagey.

Brussels, and the immigrant-strong Molenbeek district in particular, gained worldwide notoriety for being the alleged staging ground for the Paris attacks on November 13 that killed 130 people.

On Friday, Belgian prosecutors said police had found the Brussels flat where bombs used in the Paris attacks could have been made and where key suspect Abdeslam may have hidden.

Brussels itself was put on lockdown a week after the massacre with schools and museums closed on fears of a further attack, a measure that the government this week said cost the Belgian economy 350 million euros.

The city's New Year fireworks were also cancelled over a separate terror alert.

"Over the past weeks, the international media has portrayed Brussels as a war zone that tourists would do well to avoid," VisitBrussels agency said in a statement announcing their call scheme.

"The people of Brussels are proud of their region and are no doubt eager to re-establish the truth regarding the situation in Brussels."


© 2016 AFP

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