BRUSSELS – Thousands of people took to the streets Wednesday for the “Trump Not Welcome” protest in Brussels, as the US president met with Belgian royalty and government leaders in a city he once described as a “hellhole.”
Donald Trump is on the fourth stop of his first overseas tour since taking office. On Thursday he meets with leaders of the NATO military alliance, which he has also heaped criticism upon.
After arriving in the afternoon with his wife Melania following a meeting with the pope at the Vatican, the Trumps were welcomed by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and his partner at the airport.
Both leaders then listened to a military band that performed first the Belgian and then the US anthem.
Afterwards the US delegation headed in a motorcade to the Belgian royal palace for a meeting with King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, as well as senior members of the Belgian cabinet.
He spent the rest of the day at the residence of the US ambassador to Belgium.
Trump made disparaging remarks about the Belgian capital last year, when he slammed the government’s immigration policy and the city’s struggle against terrorism.
“You go to Brussels — I was in Brussels a long time ago, 20 years ago, so beautiful, everything is so beautiful — it’s like living in a hellhole right now,” Trump told Fox Business Network.
The anti-Trump rally in central Brussels drew about 9,000 people, the police said.
The rally was called to draw attention to Trump’s sexism and racism, and criticize his stance on climate change and social rights, the organizers said.
Some of the protesters held banners that read “No ban, no wall,” referring to Trump’s attempts to stop travellers from some majority Muslim countries from entering the US, and his plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Others wore Statue of Liberty costumes.
Several metro stations will be closed until Thursday afternoon, with roadblocks in place across the city. Water cannons and barbed wire fences have been set up in the centre.
On Thursday, Trump, who supported Brexit, is due to meet representatives of the European Union, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron, a passionate supporter of European integration.
Later in the day he is scheduled to attend a summit at NATO, an alliance which he has called “obsolete” in the past.
“We have made it clear to him that NATO is not an outdated organization,” Belgian Prime Minister Michel said of his meeting with Trump, according to the Belga news agency.
“There were doubts about the political will in Washington to have ties with Europe,” Michel told reporters after the meeting.
But he said Trump indicated “a willingness to maintain a strong axis between Europe and the US.”
Trump is accompanied by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, as well as his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
First Lady Melania Trump is due to visit the museum of the surrealist painter Rene Magritte and a luxury handbag shop and tour the 19th century royal greenhouses at Laeken on Thursday. – dpa