Masked protesters hurled cobblestones at police who hit back with water cannons in Brussels Thursday as thousands marched to voice their anger at austerity measures imposed by European leaders.
Police clashed with protesters near the Belgian prime minister's office in Brussels, where a tight security cordon was erected to prevent demonstrators from reaching the site of a summit of European Union leaders.
The demonstrators responded to union calls to challenge leaders' moves to commit governments to a new 'Euro Pact' which seeks to moderate wages in a bid to make Europe's economy more competitive against global rivals.
The summit, starting 1600 GMT, gathers the EU's 27 heads of state and government at the heart of the bloc's vast Brussels headquarters district, and marchers targeted the main artery leading to the summit venue.
Organisers said 20,000 people were taking part in the demonstration.
"The European Commission's annual examination of growth as well as the competitiveness pact launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will drag wages and social rights down to dangerous levels," Belgium's CES union said in a statement.
Even though the original Franco-German proposals set for adoption by leaders during the summit have been watered down, Belgian unions fear their system of index-linked wage rises is under threat.
The talks were overshadowed by Portugal's political crisis after the prime minister quit there Wednesday following a showdown with parliament over his new austerity plan, a move that boosts the chances Lisbon will need an international financial bailout.
The main artery leading to the summit headquarters was already packed with protesters by mid-morning.
Continue reading - Protesters clash with police ahead of EU summit
Man drops pants in protest as police water-cannon Belgium crowds