An all-hands-on-deck effort by Belgian authorities effectively thwarted what was supposed to go down in history as Europe’s greatest Canadian-style trucker convoy COVID-19 lockdown resistance movement of all time.
The European version of the Ottawa Freedom Convoy was supposed to take over the city center of Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union, and besiege EU parliament buildings on Feb. 14.
The protest was modeled similarly to how Canadian and U.S. truckers have kept Canada’s federal headquarters in Ottawa in a headlock for more than two weeks now.
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However, Brussels police and local authorities were on high alert after several relatively successful Freedom Convoy dress-rehearsals swept several European cities such Paris, The Hague, Lille, and Vienna over the weekend, amassing some 1.300 trucks in total — all determined to occupy the EU government compound in Brussels on Feb. 15.
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Over the weekend, anti-COVID-19 measures and anti-government rallies in Vienna and Paris were more successful, attracting thousands of people.
The Paris protests were the most unruly, with 7.000 police officers employed operating armored vehicles and abundantly spraying tear gas in an attempt to disperse as many protesters as possible. Police arrested nearly 100 activists, fining a multitude of that number.
A trucker convoy also sealed off Dutch parliament buildings in the city center of The Hague on Feb. 13, but the blockade was dismantled by authorities later that day. Law enforcement directed the demonstrators to a nearby soccer stadium parking lot, where they were kettled until their release on the morning of Feb. 14. Many protestors vowed to rejoin the other convoy freedom forces later that day in Brussels.
However, most truckers came from France after failing to take Paris hostage decisively over the weekend and now turned their attention to occupying the EU capital.
Meanwhile in Brussels, authorities started to feel vexed with the prospect of a 1.300 vehicle convoy en route with the intention to stay until all COVID-19 restrictions are tabled.
Belgian authorities, on behalf of a decision-making-troika composed of Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort, Mayor Philippe Close, and Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden, issued a 48-hour emergency regulation on the nation’s capital that started the evening of Feb. 13, virtually banning any upcoming anti-lockdown protest.
“When a convoy of freedom becomes a convoy of blockade, we have to intervene,” Verlinden defended the decision, The Brussels Times reported. Verlinden was seemingly referring to the Canadian truckers’ showdown of public resistance in Ottawa.
“They can’t stop us,” one of the convoy members posted in a Telegram group called Belgium Convoy. “Go on and fight for your freedom. Screw this [expletive] government, banned or not,” the outlet reported.
By the next day, police forces had blocked all major entryways to the city, such as the E40 motorway from Leuven in the direction of Reyers-Brussels from Sint-Stevens-Woluwe.
“We advise everyone to avoid Brussels and the access roads to Brussels by car,” Brussels police announced on Twitter on Monday morning.
Checkpoints were set up and officers were monitoring all incoming traffic, sifting out any possible activists and campers. The demonstrators were delegated to designated parking zones and told they could either stage a “static” protest at Heysel on the Brussels Expo site, or continue to the city center on foot.
“We don’t actually think that Brussels has been paralyzed. Anyone who wanted to enter Brussels with good intentions was able to do so — with some delay, of course,” An Berger, the federal police spokeswoman said, according to SF Gate.