Police disperse thousands at Belgian April Fool’s Day

BRUSSELS – Police used tear gas and water cannons on Thursday to disperse thousands of young people gathered in a Brussels park for a party in defiance of the COVID-19 closure in Belgium, an event that started out as a fish of the day. April on Facebook.

About 2,000 people turned up at the end of a hot and sunny day to attend “La Boum” (the party) in the Bois de la Cambre park, local police said, although organizers had revealed some days earlier their social media invitation was a hoax. Local media put the number at around 5,000.

Hundreds of police, many in riot gear and some on horseback, dispersed a group of potential revelers by a lake in the park with the help of water cannon trucks and tear gas.

Many in the crowd pumped their fists and chanted “freedom” and some threw bottles and stones at the water cannon trucks.

“We are all depressed. I will be 18 in two weeks, we want to enjoy our youth,” high school student Amélie, who came for the party, told Reuters. “We have not come to annoy the police, but to show that we also have a life and that we want to enjoy it.”

Reuters reporters at the scene said at least two civilians were injured in clashes, including a woman run over by a police horse. A police spokeswoman said three police officers were injured and four people were arrested.

The announcement of the party, posted on Facebook in March, promised a host of DJs, singer and producer Calvin Harris and a unique reunion of French band Daft Punk in the largest park in the Belgian capital.

Belgium entered a third COVID-19 lockdown last weekend, with groups limited to four people meeting outside, but this week’s sunny weather had already brought thousands to the park.

The bogus party sent police and prosecutors to scramble after nearly 20,000 people said they planned to attend.

Brussels prosecutors have opened an investigation to find out who is behind the Facebook post.

Brussels mayor Philippe Close said he understood people needed to get some fresh air, but such gatherings would not be tolerated.

“We have evacuated the wood. Those who do not obey the police risk being arrested and prosecuted,” he said on Twitter.

(Reporting by John Chalmers, Clement Rossignol, Kate Abnett, Philip Blenkinsop, Marine Strauss and Bart Biesemans; Editing by John Chalmers, Alex Richardson and Marguerita Choy)

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