Thousands rally against extremist violence in Brussels

Published 18.04.2016 21:19

Around 7,000 people marched through Brussels against extremist violence on Sunday, nearly a month after coordinated suicide attacks in the Belgian capital killed 32 people and wounded hundreds of others.

Organized by civil society groups, the so-called "march against terror and hatred" was aimed at putting on a show of unity after the bloodshed. But turnout was less than half of the 15,000 people they had hoped for.

Around 6,000 people set off from the Gare du Nord railway station and joined up in the city center with around 1,000 marchers who had started from Molenbeek, the rundown district that has gained an unwelcome reputation as an extremist haven.

"When our fellow citizens, defenseless civilians, are cut down in a cowardly attack, all citizens should stand up to express their disgust and solidarity," said Hassan Bousetta, a local counselor from the city of Liege, who helped organize the march. "It is a moment of reflection, a message of compassion for the victims and a moment when citizens come together," he told AFP.

Carrying a banner in French and Flemish reading "#alltogether against hatred and terror," the main group of marchers was led by families of the victims, followed by representatives from various religious communities.

A dozen members of an association for inter-religious dialogue carried a banner with drawings of doves emblazoned with: "Together in peace" while a Muslim group carried a placard reading: "Love is my religion and my faith."

In the group that set off from Molenbeek, children chanted: "DAESH, off you go, Brussels isn't for you!"

Thirty-two people were killed in the March 22 bomb attacks, which targeted Zaventem airport and a subway train at Maalbeek station, near the European Union institutions in central Brussels.

"Our Islam is based on the love of God and love for each other, regardless of one's culture, origin, religion," said a message from the widower of Loubna Lafquiri, a Belgian-Moroccan mother of three who was killed in the metro blast. In a poignant address to his wife, he wrote: "My princess, my treasure, my eternal love, I tell you that we will meet again soon."

Similar to previous extremist attacks in Europe, the Brussels attacks have also brought refugees and, Muslim communities in particular, under spotlight. Despite warnings from several European political figures, Islamophobia and xenophobia have been on the rise across the continent.

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