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Police break up Brussels anti-lockdown party

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Police fired water cannon and tear gas in a Brussels park on Saturday (1 May) to break up an anti-lockdown party of several hundred people designed to defy coronavirus social distancing rules. The crowd of mostly young people responded to a post on Facebook announcing the unauthorised party. It took place a month after police cleared 2,000 people who gathered in the same Bois de la Cambre park for la Boum (the party), an event that had begun as an April Fool's joke.

The follow-up Boum 2 event on 1 May, a traditional day for demonstrations, was held a week before the Belgian government allows cafe and bar terraces to open and lets groups of more than four people meet outside in a relaxation of COVID-19 rules.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged Belgians on Friday to stay united and not "fall into this trap". Facebook also took down the Boum 2 post on Thursday (29 April) after a request from Belgian prosecutors, who warned partygoers they risked being detained or fined.

A man is doused by a water cannon during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A man is doused by a water cannon during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A police officer detains a man during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police said several hundred people still attended.

Emile Breuillot, a 23-year-old dental student, said he had come to see people enjoy themselves and to defend their rights to gather.

After a calm start with groups chanting "freedom", the police announced on social media that attendees were not observing public safety measures and that they would intervene. Many people were not wearing masks, a requirement anywhere in public in the Belgian capital.

Hundreds of people also marched in central Brussels and through the eastern city of Liege demanding a relaxation of coronavirus measures.

Belgium

Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods

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The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.

Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.

Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.

Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.

"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.

"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."

Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.

But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.

Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.

Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.

Members of the Bundeswehr forces, surrounded by partially submerged cars, wade through the flood water following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Austrian rescue team members use their boats as they go through an area affected by floods, following heavy rainfalls, in Pepinster, Belgium, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.

It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.

Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.

RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.

In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.

Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.

Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.

Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.

The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.

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35 years - and still going strong!

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The year 1986 was marked by both advances and setbacks. Technology advances helped the Soviet Union launch the Mir Space Station and had the UK and France building the Chunnel. Sadly, it also saw the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the explosion of one of the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl.

In Belgium, the country’s footballers came home to a hero’s welcome after finishing 4th in the Mexico World Cup.

The year was also notable for one other event: the opening of L’Orchidee Blanche in Brussels, now one of the acknowledged best Vietnamese restaurants in the country.

Back in 1986, when Katia Nguyen (pictured) opened the restaurant in what was then a quiet Brussels neighbourhood, she could not have realised what a huge success it would be.

This year, the restaurant marks its 35th anniversary, a real milestone,  and it has come a long in the intervening years, so much so  that it is now a byword for fine Asian cuisine, not just in this now-bustling area of Brussels but further afield.

Indeed, word had spread so far about the quality of the excellent Vietnamese food available here that, a few years ago, it was awarded the prestige title of “Best Asian Restaurant in Belgium” by the renowned food guide, Gault and Millau.

Katia is the first to accept that her success also owes a lot to her team, who just happen to be all-female (this partly reflects the traditional role women occupy in the Vietnamese kitchen).

The longest serving among them is Trinh, who has been dishing up wonderful Vietnamese meals in the small, open-plan kitchen her for a couple of decades now, while other “veteran” staff members include Huong, who has been here 15 years and Linh, a  relative newcomer having worked here for four years!

They, along with their colleagues, are beautifully dressed in authentic Vietnamese costumes,something else the resto is famous for. To hold on to staff for so long also reflects well on the excellent management style of Katia.

It is all a long way from the days, back in the 1970s, when Katia first arrived in this country for her studies. Like so many of her compatriots she had fled the Vietnam war in search of a better life in the West and she set about starting a new life in her “new” home – Belgium.

For connoisseurs of great Vietnamese food that was, well, rather good news.

The standard set when Katia, still relatively freshly arrived in Belgium from Saigon, opened the restaurant back in 1986 is just as high today as it was then.

Despite the awful health pandemic that has wrought havoc in the hospitality sector here, Katia’s “army” of loyal customers are now flooding back to sample the wonderful delights concocted by her highly talented, Vietnamese-born team.

The restaurant is located close to the ULB university and everything here is prepared in house. The dishes are based on either traditional or more contemporary recipes but similar to the best you might find in Vietnam itself. Many diners here consider the spring rolls the best in Belgium but if they are succulent, the gourmet riches of this house take you on a culinary journey, stretching from North to South Vietnam and all stops in between.

The restaurant never really closed during the lockdowns as it continued to serve a brisk takeaway service. Now fully reopened, takeaways account for about 30 per cent of the business. Customers can either collect their order or have it delivered to their home/office.

With summer upon us, it’s good to know there is now a terrace seating up to 20 people on the street outside while, at the back, is a pleasant outside area with space for about 30 and open until October.

Inside, the restaurant seats 38 people downstairs and 32 upstairs. There is also a great value-for-money, two course, lunch menu, costing just €13, which is particularly popular.

The a la carte choice is huge and features a range of meat,fish and poultry dishes – all are fabulous and very tasty. There’s also a great drinks and wine list and look out too for a lovely suggestions menu which changes weekly.

The charming and very welcoming Katia has come a very long way since she first set foot in Belgium. For a restaurant still to be thriving 35 years after it opened is a massive achievement, particularly in this “post-pandemic” era but for that same place to have been under the same ownership all that time is quite remarkable… which, actually, also very accurately describes both the cuisine and service here.

Happy 35th birthday L’Orchidee Blanche!

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Belgium

UK residents among those from 24 countries that are banned from travelling to Belgium

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From Saturday 26 June, people travelling from a total of 24 countries have been banned from entering Belgium in all but a few exceptional circumstances. Among the countries on the travel ban list is the United Kingdom. The ban on people from the 24 countries on the list from entering Belgium is an attempt to stop or at least slow down the spread of more virulent strains of coronavirus such as the Delta variant. Sat 26 Jun 11:01 Other countries on the list include South Africa, Brazil and India. They have been on the travel ban list since late April. They have now been joined by the UK, where the prevalence of the Delta variant has seen the number of new coronavirus infections rise sharply in recent weeks.

On 25 June there were 15,810 new infections recorded in the UK, on 24 June this was 16,703. The population of the UK is around 6 times that of Belgium. Many of the countries on the list are in Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chili, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago). The African countries on the list are South Africa, Botswana, Congo, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Tunisia. Travellers from Bangladesh, Georgia, Nepal, India and Pakistan are also not welcome, nor are people travelling to Belgium from Bahrein.

An exception to the ban on people from these countries entering Belgium is made for Belgian nationals and people officially resident there. There are also exceptions for diplomats, people working for certain international organisation and people that need to come here on humanitarian grounds. Passengers transiting via Brussels Airport are not covered by the ban.

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