Protests turn violent in Brussels as summit nears

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 9:00 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Security forces and demonstrators clashed ahead of a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels Thursday, with police using water cannon to disperse one group of protesters, a police spokeswoman said.

Around 30 demonstrators protesting against the EU's handling of the financial crisis tried to break through barriers and threw rocks at Belgian police, who responded with the water cannon, witnesses and the spokeswoman said.

Police estimated around 12,000 demonstrators had gathered near the European Union institutions where EU leaders will meet later Thursday. Organizers, including labor unions, put the number at closer to 20,000.

The protesters are opposed to an EU competitiveness pact, an agreement reached this month by euro zone leaders to adopt measures like higher retirement ages, a review of wage indexation and more flexible labor markets.

"At the level of pensions, social security and work flexibility, what has been put on the table at the European level is unacceptable," Myriam Delmee, vice-president of the BBTK union in Belgium, told Reuters from the protest.

The demonstrations, mostly by Belgian unions, were due to end at around 1300 GMT.

(Reporting by Ben Deighton; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)