European ‘freedom convoy’ plans large Valentine’s Day protest in Brussels against COVID-19 measures – POLITICO

You might want to reconsider a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day in Brussels, as the city may be completely paralyzed.

A coordinated pan-European convoy of anti-vaccine protesters is expected to descend on Brussels on February 14. Brussels police are preparing if the protest turns violent as others have – but they admit they are somewhat in the dark about the protesters’ plans.

A spokesman for Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told POLITICO that local law enforcement was closely following “calls to protest”. But she said that “despite monitoring, it is not clear what the exact plans of the European Freedom Convoy are, as well as estimating the exact scale of the movement.”

The demonstrators have a clear objective: to disrupt Brussels as much as possible to protest against the anti-COVID-19 measures taken by national governments and the European Union.

It’s unclear how many protesters from across the 27-nation bloc will reach the Belgian capital, but tens of thousands of people have spent weeks planning the February 14 demonstration. Many have used encrypted messaging services like Telegram to plan routes, share logistical support and raise funds for what some hope will be a weeks-long push to rumble the bureaucratic EU capital, based on POLITICO trains. of more than 30 Telegram channels associated with the next event.

The group has not yet filed a formal authorization request with the Brussels police and mayor Philippe Close, according to its spokesperson. “Usually we always try to have a contact to be able to arrange something. At the moment there are no requests but we always remain vigilant”, she added.

Brussels police, who will be on the front line of any protests, are “monitoring the situation on social media”, said a spokesman who declined to comment on the scale of forces to be deployed that day. .

The Federal Police, which oversees all local police forces, said that although they had preparatory meetings, it was “too early to say” what to expect that day as they did not did not yet have a “clear picture of the number of trucks”. ”

These groups – which hail from all 27 member countries and have strong ties to similar anti-COVID-19 movements in North America, Australia and beyond – are channeling the anger of a vocal minority of Europeans who believe that It is illegal to impose coronavirus vaccinations or restrict the movement of people to protect public health.

Belgian police are coordinating with authorities in neighboring countries over the convoy, the interior ministry spokesman added.

In previous anti-COVID-19 protests, far-right groups including from Germany and France have tried to build on the protests to spread more hateful messages around immigrants, Jews and others. minority groups, based on POLITICO’s review of tons of social media. content from the past two years.

Most of the efforts were led by local offline organizations and even individuals in specific EU countries who rallied others to join them in the regional march on Brussels.

Europeans United for Freedom, a European network that organized a protest in Brussels last month against coronavirus restrictions but is not organizing the convoy, expressed support for the protest. Tom Meert, the group’s chairman, said that although the United Europeans are not organizing it, they will make it public. For January 23, “we did 3 months of advertising, for that [protest], one week. But I think it’s selling because it’s very popular in our movement,” he said.

Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that tracks extremism online and tracks mobilization, said European protesters were inspired by ongoing protests in Canada against the mandates of vaccines and masks.

“The danger is that they copy what happened in Canada at the center of power in the EU,” he said. “The movement is fueled by conspiracy and pedaling blatant misinformation. It’s a risk everyone should watch out for.”

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