Brussels riot police use horses and water cannon to disperse crowd gathered in response to April Fools’ joke

Riot police in Belgium have used horses and water cannon to disperse crowds of revellers gathered in defiance of coronavirus rules, apparently in response to a fake festival created as an April Fools’ joke.

In recent weeks, some 70,000 people had expressed an interest on Facebook in attending a festival dubbed “La Boum”, which according to The Brussels Times had advertised “eight stages, a hundred DJs and zero coronavirus rules”.

Despite the anonymous would-be organisers, police and the city’s mayor Philippe Close all making clear that the event was a prank, between 2,000 and 5,000 people made their way to one of Brussels’ largest parks, the Bois de la Cambre, on Thursday, according to police and local media estimates respectively.

Footage posted to social media showed chaotic scenes as riot police armed with shields and batons moved in to disperse the crowds, which – in addition to some attendees filmed drinking and dancing – appeared to include some people dissatisfied with coronavirus rules currently in force with the aim of preventing a third wave of infections, amid rising case numbers and hospitalisations.

Some clips showed police officers charging into crowds on horseback, as revellers dodged jets from water cannon deployed to break up the unauthorised event, reportedly alongside tear gas and pepper spray.

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Local media reported that one man had been knocked to the floor by a police horse. A police dog was also visible in another clip.

La Libre Belgique reported that, despite moving in at about 5pm, officers continued to meet resistance for hours, as some in the crowd hurled bottles and other projectiles at law enforcement.

“Attention, the police will proceed to disperse the premises, all people will be liable to receive a ticket,” were the words blaring from one police vehicle, according to the outlet.

But two hours later, elements of the party are reported to have resumed, with some people filmed standing around a makeshift bonfire as music played from portable speakers – despite police telling the Associated Press that four arrests had been made and three officers injured.

Images taken by photojournalists showed an officer bleeding from his head while apparently detaining someone.

(Hatim Kaghat/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

De Morgen reported that efforts to clear the park were still underway at 8pm local time.

At 6.23pm local time the city’s mayor wrote on Twitter that while “people need to be outside … we cannot tolerate such gatherings in the Bois de la Cambre”.

“We therefore evacuated the forest,” Philippe Close said. “Those who fail to obey police orders run the risk of arrest and prosecution”.

He told local media site DHNet: “I will do everything possible to ensure that they are prosecuted. And I will send them the invoice.”

The prosecutor’s office is investigating the currently anonymous founders of the fake event, according to VRT.

The organisers have reportedly revealed themselves to be “creatives” working in the embattled events industry. De Morgen quoted them as saying: “We have done nothing wrong, have we? If we had really set up a festival, or a party, then we would. But this is no more and no less than an April Fools’ joke.”

Some in the crowd reportedly appeared to have attended as a show of protest against lockdown restrictions.

It comes as the Belgian government grapples with a Brussels court ruling ordering it to provide a solid legal basis for its coronavirus legislation, or face a fine of €5,000 per day.

As a third wave of the virus hits the continent, Belgium has implemented a night-time curfew, and has banned people from meeting up outside in groups larger than four.

Hospitalisations have risen in recent weeks and health authorities warn intensive care facilities could reach a critical level next week unless the number of new infections slows.

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