Police used tear gas and water cannons against football fans in central Brussels on Sunday as violence broke out in the aftermath of Belgium’s 2-0 defeat to Morocco in the FIFA World Cup.
Riot police were deployed to a Christmas market in the downtown area of the Belgian capital, and police ordered the shutdown of some public transport lines. Fires were set and rocks were thrown at vehicles. A group of young Morocco fans smashed up a car and rental scooters, according to footage from a BBC journalist on the scene.
Morocco’s victory was a major upset at the World Cup tournament and was celebrated exuberantly by fans with Moroccan immigrant roots.
Rajae Maouane, a Belgian politician with Moroccan heritage who is co-president of French-speaking party Ecolo, condemned the violence. “No excuse for the violent behavior of these ‘supporters,’” she tweeted. “Real supporters celebrate with joy and respect.”
Rudi Vervoort, the Socialist minister-president of the Brussels Capital region’s government, wrote on Twitter: “Nothing justifies the vandalism of these hooligans who bring shame to real fans. The police is doing everything it can to maintain public order.”
The majority of celebrations in Brussels by the city’s sizeable Moroccan community were peaceful, others were careful to point out. The Moroccan diaspora in Belgium numbers around half a million people.
Philippe Close, the Socialist mayor of the city of Brussels, also condemned the violence, and advised football supporters not to come to the center of town. The Brussels police advised people not to travel to the Boulevard du Midi and adjacent streets.
There were also disturbances in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Liege, the Associated Press reported.
“Sad to see how a few individuals abuse a situation to run amok,” Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden was quoted as saying by the AP.
The Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang seized on the altercations to further its nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam agenda. The party’s Chairman Tom Van Grieken said Belgians with Moroccan heritage are “free to leave” the country.
Police in the Netherlands said violence erupted in Rotterdam, with riot officers attempting to break up a group of 500 football fans who pelted police with fireworks and glass, the AP reported. Unrest was also reported in Amsterdam and The Hague.