Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenians block Belgian motorways to protest escalating conflict

Traffic on several Belgian motorways was at a standstill on Friday morning as protesters staged blockades in an effort to draw attention to an escalating armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The demonstration was led by Armenian protesters who, wrapped in their national flags, spread through the E17, E19 and E314 motorways and disrupted traffic at key border crossings into Belgium.

“They walked onto the highway and stopped traffic,” Peter Bruyninckx, spokesperson for the Flemish Traffic Centre told Het Nieuwsblad.

Protesters in Rekkem, located in the province of West Flanders along the border with France, blocked traffic coming from both directions.

In Maasmechelen, near the Dutch border, traffic was blocked for all vehicles driving into Belgium while in Meer, drivers going in the direction of the Netherlands were blocked by the demonstration.

Police were able to clear 27 cars blocking the motorway in Maasmechelen as they began causing traffic jams lasting up to half an hour. The demonstrators were led to a nearby gas station.

“The demonstrators want to talk to the press to bring the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan to their attention,” a police officer in Maasmechelen told the outlet.

The protest comes three weeks into an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted around three weeks ago over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in the territory of Azerbaijan.

Over 300 people have already died as hostilities continue, with the collapse of a Russian-brokered ceasefire leading to fears that the armed dispute could escalate into a wider regional conflict at the doorstep of Europe.

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Azerbaijan and Armenia have continued accusing each other of causing the flare-up in violence, with the president of Azerbaijan —which has received unconditional backing from Turkey, a regional heavyweight hostile to Armenia— saying that “whoever fired first should stop first.”

The Nagorno-Karabakh, located inside Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians, has been a source of conflict since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Several similar demonstrations were staged in highways elsewhere in Europe, with demonstrators blocking borders crossings in Spain, France, Switzerland or Germany.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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