No day-trippers allowed in Knokke-Heist until ‘end of heat wave’


Following clashes between coastal visitors and police at the weekend, the mayor of Knokke-Heist has shut the city’s borders to day-trippers

Brawl in Blankenberge

While Blankenberge is again welcoming day-trippers, the mayor of Knokke-Heist has announced that visitors without an overnight reservation are not welcome in his city until the end of the heat wave. The northernmost city on the Flemish coast made the decision following unrest at the coast at the weekend.

On Saturday, a brawl broke out between a group of young men and police on the beach at Blankenberge. As the tide came in and less space was available on the beach, police asked people to leave, which led to the altercation. It quickly turned violent, as the group began throwing parasols and beach chairs at police.

According to witnesses, the young men had been drinking heavily all day. It turned out to be a group from Brussels who are members of the same gang. Three of them have been arrested.

In response, Blankenberge shut its borders to day visitors on Sunday. Police back-up has come in from other towns, and visitors are now welcome to return.

Why can’t these gangs be stopped in the Brussels stations? Corona measures do not allow travelling in large groups anyway

- Blankenberge mayor Daphné Dumery

The city’s mayor, Daphné Dumery (N-VA), pointed the finger at NMBS and Brussels police who she thinks should stop gang members from getting on the train in the capital. “Our police here are now having to carry out inspections in the station carefully so that we aren’t profiling,” she said on Terzake, referring to the fact that the young men causing trouble at the coast were of Caribbean and African descent. “Why can’t these gangs be stopped in the Brussels stations? Corona measures do not allow travelling in large groups, in any case.”

Twelve kilometres up the coast, meanwhile, in Knokke-Heist, police are still turning away visitors coming into the city without a hotel reservation. According to local police, there were also several incidents there involving groups of young people on Saturday, such as fights and not conforming to coronavirus regulations. Last month, there was an after-hours clash between partying youth and police in the city.

Police are now stopping day-trippers driving into Knokke and also intervening at the train station, though far less as it is impossible to keep up with the number of people getting off the trains. When Knokke-Heist will begin to welcome back day visitors is unclear, though temperatures are supposed to drop to under 30°C in Brussels by Thursday.

An overcrowded beach, alcohol and coronavirus measures came to a head at Blankenberge on Saturday

According to Antwerp law professor Elke Cloots, Knokke-Heist may be in breach of constitutional rights with the measure. “You are allowed to limit freedom of movement to maintain public order or health,” she told VRT, “but the measures must be proportional to the risk.”

This is not the case here, said Cloots, an expert in constitutional and human rights law. “Here they are making a mountain out of a molehill.”

Coast municipalities can take measures without punishing the innocent, she insists. “When it comes to this kind of clash, you can issue a ban on the people involved. You can very strictly enforce the ban on gathering in groups, and you can ban alcohol on the beach. You can also force people to enter the beach at a certain spot in order to be able to better control who enters. Only if these measures prove to be insufficient should you take such a far-reaching measure as excluding the entire population.”

Knokke-Heist mayor Leopold Lippens (Gemeentebelangen), however, will not be deterred. “If I allow everyone in, I cannot guarantee people’s safety,” he said. “If this measure is challenged, I’ll take a second measure, and a third. Fine with me. I’m not concerned about people who are critical of this decision.”

Photos, from top: ©Eric Lalmand/BELGA, ©Maarten Weynants/BELGA