Water cannons and teargas were hastily deployed by police after coming under attack from football supporters who converged in the center of Brussels on Sunday and wreaked havoc following Morocco’s stunning 2-0 World Cup win over Belgium in Qatar.
A police report said that 11 people had been arrested with one remaining in custody after dozens of fans ran riot smashing shop windows, threw fireworks and set vehicles ablaze.
Even before the match ended, “dozens of people, including some wearing hoodies, sought confrontation with the police, which compromised public safety,” Brussels police said in the ensuing statement. A spokeswoman said some fans were armed with sticks and a journalist “was injured in the face by fireworks”.
About a hundred police officers were rapidly mobilized while residents were put on alert and warned to avoid certain areas of the city center. At same time metro stations were closed and streets immediately sealed off to curtail the spread of the escalating violence.
A surveillance helicopter did its reconnaissance over the city before calm was finally restored at around 7:00pm (18:00GMT). An AFP journalist allegedly saw irate protesters burning a car, electric scooters and rubbish bins. Storefronts and a bus shelter were also vandalized.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the incidents of this afternoon. The police have already firmly intervened. I therefore advise against fans coming to the city centre. The police are doing all they can to maintain public order,” tweeted the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close.
“I have ordered the police to carry out arrests of the troublemakers.”
The tension is understandable as Belgium is home to around 500,000 people of Moroccan descent and in the eastern city of Liege, a gathering of 50 people converged on a police station, breaking windows and damaging two police vehicles. The police had no alternatives but to resort to water cannons to repel the attackers.
Incidents also broke out in Antwerp in the north where a dozen people were arrested.
Meanwhile, Dutch riot police carried out baton charges in three cities to disperse unruly Moroccan football supporters celebrating their team’s victory.
Police took action in Rotterdam, where some 500 people gathered near the city centre, as well as in The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht, Dutch police tweeted.
“Supporters threw fireworks and glass at the riot police who then carried out charges,” Rotterdam police said.
Video images showed police with batons and shields sweeping the city centre. Riot police also dispersed fans in Amsterdam and The Hague.
The Netherlands’ large Moroccan community burst into celebrations, lighting torches and fireworks and driving around hooting car horns and waving Moroccan flags shortly after the match ended.