Ban on gatherings in Antwerp neighbourhood following riots

Summary

The mayor of Antwerp has introduced a ban on public gatherings in one of the city’s Turkish neighbourhoods, following riots at the weekend between Kurdish activists and residents

Violent skirmishes

Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever has placed a ban on public gatherings in the Brederode neighbourhood following riots and continued unrest in the area at the weekend. The problems started on Friday night when violence broke out between residents of the Turkish neighbourhood and a passing bus full of Kurdish protestors.

At about 17.30, according to police, a PKK mobile library full of activists was on its way to Steenplein on the waterfront for the Free Öcalan protest. The Kurdish leader Abdulla Öcalan has been serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison since 1999 for his role in the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by the EU, Nato, Turkey and many other countries.

A group of men of Turkish descent attacked the bus, and the ensuing riot included some 200 people. Eight people were injured, including a police officer. Forty-seven people were arrested.

Why the bus chose to travel through a well-known Turkish neighbourhood – located in the Zuid district – on its way to the protest remains unclear. The group said that they had to detour down the Brederodestraat because of a cycling event on the main road. The driver, they said, simply didn’t think about the population of the neighbourhood when he chose to enter the street.

‘Foreign conflict’

But bystanders said that the passengers on the bus “provoked” people on the streets by waving Kurdish flags out the window. Locals against blamed PKK advocates for causing trouble on Sunday night in the neighbourhood. A fight broke out in a bar, which soon took to the streets.

Some 40 people were arrested and four injured. Among the injured was another police officer, who was taken to hospital.

The Kurdish organisation NavBel, however, said that Sunday night’s riot was the result of organised violence by Turkish residents against Kurdish-owned businesses.

De Wever has put a ban on gatherings in the neighbourhood, which is expected to last at least a week. “I strongly condemn this foreign conflict being imported here and how quickly rioters resort to violence against people and property,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to oppose this kind of behaviour, which is at odds with the freedom of expression that we value in our communities.”

Photo courtesy Gazet van Antwerpen

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