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Belgium | Car drives into carnival crowd, six dead

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(Brussels) A car drove into a crowd gathering to take part in a carnival early Sunday in the south of Belgium, killing six people and injuring 26 others, including 10 seriously, announced the authorities, who exclude for the moment the thesis of an attack.

The tragedy occurred around 5 a.m. in Strépy-Bracquegnies, a village dependent on the town of La Louvière, a former coal mining area not far from the French border.

“In the current state of the investigation, the terrorist track is not privileged”, declared Damien Verheyen, deputy public prosecutor of Mons, during a press conference in La Louvière.

“Nothing is going in the direction of any radicalism or extremism”, confirmed in the evening the prosecutor of the King of Mons, Christian Henry, on public television RTBF.


PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

According to Mr. Verheyen, “a vehicle drove into a collection group” of people dressed as “Gilles” for the carnival, and “we deplore six deaths, 26 injured at various stages”, including “10 people whose days are currently in danger.

The two people in the car were arrested and their homes searched. Originally from La Louvière, born in 1988 and 1990, they are not known to justice, according to him.

“The two people arrested were returning from a dance hall and had dropped off another person just before the incident,” said Christian Henry. The results of their blood tests, expected on Monday, “will make it possible to say whether they have used drugs”.

“The facts have been qualified as murder but we will see what the investigation will reveal and if we should requalify the thing as manslaughter”, he added.

“Absolute Horror”

According to Mayor Jacques Gobert, between 150 and 200 people took part in the carnival pick-up before dawn.

The vehicle arrived at high speed and “pulverized a significant number of people”, he said.

Witnesses described a horror scene of a car hurtling into a crowd that included children.


PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Fabrice Collignon, a Belgian television presenter, told AFP that “in a snap of the fingers, we went from joy and folklore to absolute horror”. The car appears to have “deliberately rammed into the crowd”, according to him.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, other ministers and King Philippe visited the scene, visiting the relief workers at the gymnasium in Strépy-Bracquegnies, where the morning procession had started.

“It should have been a day of celebration after a difficult period. It has turned into a day of mourning,” the prime minister told reporters. “We are all with the family and with the loved ones of the victims”.

In Belgium, towns and villages organize many street parades for carnival during Lent, the best known being in Binche and Aalst.

Like that of Binche, the carnival of Strépy-Bracquegnies welcomes costumed participants, the “Gilles”, summoned early to participate in the parade.

“I was walking next to it,” said a witness, Théo, to RTBF. “I turned around and saw a car driving into the troop”.

“She arrived very quickly and did not brake. She continued and she embarked a Gilles 100 meters further, ”continued the young man. “There were a lot of people on the ground.”

In neighboring France, President Emmanuel Macron “assured the Belgian Prime Minister of his support and his friendship after this tragedy”.

The mayor of La Louvière said he asked the organizers to cancel the other carnival events, the first organized after two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

In neighboring Germany, on February 24, 2020 in Volkmarsen (west), a man purposely drove his vehicle into the crowd during a carnival parade, injuring some 90 people, including children. He was sentenced in December to life imprisonment.

Germany was hit by the deadliest jihadist attack on its soil on December 19, 2016, when a ram truck killed 12 people and injured dozens at a Christmas market in Berlin.

The country has seen several similar attacks since, most often perpetrated by unbalanced people.

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