Brussels police fire water-cannon at anti-austerity protest: AFP

24th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Belgian police fired water-cannon during clashes with protesters at a huge demonstration in Brussels on Tuesday against the centre-right government's austerity measures, AFP journalists said.

A group of around 100 masked protesters broke away from the peaceful main rally of around 60,000 people in the Belgian capital and started hurling objects and firecrackers at riot police, they said.

Officers then drove them back with jets of water from three cannon.

Tuesday's protest is supposed to kick off months of planned demonstrations and national strikes led by trade unions against the policies of Prime Minister Charles Michel's government.

Security had been tight amid fears of a repeat of the violence that marred a mass rally against reforms announced by Michel just after he came to power in 2014.

Brussels also remains under security alert following the March 22 suicide bombings at the airport and metro system, claimed by the Islamic State group.

Three main unions oppose proposed reforms from Employment Minister Kris Peeters allowing employers to impose a more flexible work week of up to 45 hours if needed, followed by shorter weeks to retain the principle of the 38-hour work week.

"I am here to protest against all the measures that this right-wing government is taking. They are attacking workers, pensioners and the unemployed," Michel Beis, a trade union member taking part in the peaceful rally told AFP before the violence broke out.

"We are going backwards," added Jacques Warnier, a protester from the town of Liege.

Former socialist prime minister Elio di Rupo was among the crowd of protesters, who wore red, green and blue tops in the colours of the main unions from both Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

© 2016 AFP

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