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Belgian youths defy virus ban to party in park

Hundreds of mainly young Belgian party-goers gathered in a Brussels park on Saturday in defiance of coronavirus restrictions and police orders.

The so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, is a follow up to an action last month that was broken up by police with horses and water cannon.

Ahead of the event, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed.

By late afternoon, AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown as police moved in.

“We’re here to protect our freedom. Masks? I don’t wear them anymore. I want to be free,” said an 18-year-old high schooler from Flanders.

As a police car rolled onto the grass close to the heart of the gathering, the merry-makers chanted: “Freedom, Freedom.”

A helicopter and a drone hovered overhead, but the protesters’ music all but drowned out police demands for masking and social distancing.

“It’s been a year,” a 21-year-old from the capital told AFP. “A whole year we can’t go out. After a while you need an alternative.”

Belgium is under its second national lockdown as a coronavirus prevention measure and bars and restaurants have been shut since late October.

But a vaccination drive is picking up speed and outdoor dining and drinking is due to resume on May 8, and authorities have appealed for calm.

Norton, a 23-year-old cook who has lost his restaurant job, said the plan was not to provoke violence but to demand an end to what he called “illogical” anti-virus measures.

On April 1, a month ago, 2,000 people gathered in the Bois de la Cambre and several were hurt, along with police officers and horses, during clashes.