BRUSSELS — The Brussels police chief was injured Tuesday during clashes at the end of a major anti-austerity demonstration attended by around 50,000 people in the center of the Belgian capital.
Police chief Pierre Vandersmissen was treated for a head injury after he was hit with a stone in the back by a red-clad man and fell to the ground during rock throwing by a few dozen protesters after most of the marchers had already disbanded.
With a pepper spray canister, Vandersmissen had been chasing people who had attacked police even though he was not wearing extensive protective gear. He was taken to hospital and is expected to be released on Wednesday.
The demonstration was called to protest the center-right government’s social and economic policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium’s welfare state.
In all, two police officials and eight protesters were injured in the clashes, during which police fired water cannons. About a dozen people were detained. It was a repeat of previous anti-austerity protests when the violence of dozens overshadowed the march of tens of thousands.
The government said in a statement “it condemns the violence committed by a minority” but added it took note of the large size of the demonstration demanding changes.
Under the slogan “Our cup runs over” the main unions joined in the march, united in their opposition against moves to increase workers’ flexibility at work, longer careers before pensions kick in and less pay under tougher conditions.
The trade unions say the center-right free market policies of Liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel over the past two years are costing an average family about 100 euros ($112) a month, while the promise of many extra jobs remains elusive. Instead the trade unions want the government to tackle tax evasion.
Socialist union leader Rudy De Leeuw denounced the attack on Vandersmissen and said that if the unidentified attacker turns out to be a member of the union, he will be expelled.
“It is the most cowardly thing to do,” he said.