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Belgian police arrest protesters, stand off with youths

Belgian police made a series of arrests of right-wing and anti-racist protesters in Brussels on Saturday, and riot squads engaged in a tense confrontation with local youths in the district of Molenbeek.

The standoff grew out of plans by a far-right group to hold a demonstration in Molenbeek, a largely Muslim neighbourhood where a number of the militants who staged attacks in Paris had been based. An anti-racist group had called for a counter-demonstration.

Both were banned by local authorities, fearful of a repeat of last Sunday’s disturbance, when police fired water cannon to break up around 450 rowdy protesters, many of whom local media said were right-wing nationalists.

Police said a number of extreme-right protesters nevertheless did arrive in Molenbeek. At least seven were detained.

“There was a protest expected by the extreme right, so there a large group of (local) youths gathered and then at a point we had 300 to 400 surrounding the police station,” a police spokesman said.

Around 200 riot police stood guard in Molenbeek and there was a tense stand-off with the local youths, mostly of North African origin, one of whom hurled a rubbish bin towards the police. Water cannon were in place but were not used.

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