Extinction Rebellion climate protesters block the Rue Belliard in Brussels, Belgium

Extinction Rebellion-led climate protesters block the Rue Belliard in Brussels, Belgium on May 4, 2024.

(Photo: Wouter van Leeuwen/Extinction Rebellion Belgium/X)

Belgian Police Arrest 132 Climate Defenders Demanding End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies

"The fact that national governments are subsidizing fossil fuels is akin to a crime against humanity," said one Extinction Rebellion organizer.

The climate action group Extinction Rebellion Belgium on Saturday decried what it called "disproportionate police violence" against nonviolent demonstrators who were arrested during a protest in Brussels demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion-led climate defenders blocked Rue Belliard in the European Quarter, the de facto European Union capital, during EU Open Day, when agencies of the 27-nation bloc open their doors to the public. In what Extinction Rebellion called an "unprecedented police response," officers allegedly struck protesters with batons and used chemical agents against demonstrators.

Brussels police said 132 activists—some of whom glued themselves to the ground—were arrested.

"This police behavior toward nonviolent protesters exercising their freedom of assembly is illegal and authoritarian," Extinction Rebellion Belgium said in a statement Saturday.

"We call on the police to exercise restraint and respect the right to demonstrate peacefully and without violence," the group added.

The activists are calling on European governments to stop subsidizing fossil fuels amid a worsening planetary crisis. They're also demanding the declaration of a climate emergency.

"National and European governments are spending at least €405 billion each year subsidizing major fossil fuel corporations," protest spokesperson Bertina Maes toldThe Brussels Times. "That's ten times more than what's spent on climate policy."

Maes said the Belgian government alone spent as much as €20 billion ($21.5 billion) on fossil fuel subsidies in 2020, more than 2% of the country's gross domestic product.

"The fact that national governments are subsidizing fossil fuels is akin to a crime against humanity," she asserted.

This weekend's demonstration and arrests come a month before E.U. parliamentary elections. According to an April Eurobarometer survey conducted by the European Parliament, climate action is the fifth-most important issue to voters, after poverty and social exclusion, health, jobs, and defense and security.

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