Anticipating more riots, Brussels makes security preparations ahead of Morocco match
The City of Brussels is bracing itself for the next World Cup match featuring Morocco, after a previous victory this week led to rioting and 119 arrests.
The Belgian capital has a significant population of Moroccans and even without a personal tie to the country, there are some football fans who take celebrations too far.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close told RTL that “those who want to stir up trouble will have to deal with the police” when it comes to these matches.
“First of all, we must congratulate all those who celebrated in a law-abiding and friendly manner,” Close said.
“But it's true that hundreds of arrests were made long after the match was over. My message is clear: if you want to come and party in Brussels, you are welcome; if you come and cause trouble, you will have to deal with the police.”
Boulevard Lemonnier in the centre of Brussels was overrun by hundreds of fans after the previous victory against Spain, which occurred after a tense penalty shoot-out.
Police were deployed just as they had been the last time, when Morocco played Canada. This time, there were 114 administrative arrests for public disorder and five judicial arrests.
Given the consistency of rioting following Morocco games, mayor Close was asked if he was anxious about the upcoming match.
“I don't work on fear, but on organisation,” he said, thanking those ‘big brothers’ who linked arms to create human chains in order to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
“It is an extreme minority that has tarnished the image of the Belgian-Moroccan community. These ‘big brothers’ are on our side and on the side of the police. We will have the same set-up on Saturday, both if Morocco wins and if Portugal wins, because we have a large Portuguese community too.”
Close downplayed the public disorder, saying each incident was an isolated one and that police were able to intervene quickly, sometimes using water cannon and tear gas.
At one point, football fans shot fireworks at a passing vehicle and pounded on its windows. There were also issues with some individuals attempting to seize parts of a metro construction site and throw stones at police, but calm was restored.
Celebrations in Antwerp likewise got out of hand, with projectiles thrown at a police station and at officers, resulting in about 20 arrests.
“We mustn't put the thousands of supporters who had a positive celebration in the same bag as a few thugs,” mayor Close urged.
Morocco’s team has now qualified for the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – a significant and hard-fought victory. The team play Portugal on Saturday at 16.00 local time.