Violence broke out in the capital of Belgium Thursday as cops responded to huge protests against austerity measures.

“Protesters overturned cars and threw paving stones and fireworks,” reports the BBC. “Riot police armed with clubs and shields charged the rowdiest groups of demonstrators, who also set rubbish bins on fire and made makeshift barricades,” The New Zealand Herald adds.

The Belgian state announced cuts in public sector spending earlier this year as it faces punishment by EU central bankers if it does not reduce the nation’s deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year. The deficit stood at 3.8 percent in 2011.

In addition, the government plans to raise the retirement age, cut health care and social security benefits, and cut wages. The Belgian government says the cuts and other measures will save around 11 billion euros, or $13.8 billion.

The protest was called by Belgian trade unions. Additional action in the coming days include strikes in provinces of the kingdom and a countrywide general strike on December 15.

Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union. EU plenary sessions are held there and its hemicycle hosts the EU Parliament and political and committee meetings.

Earlier this year the G7 summit – attended by leaders of the seven G7 member states and representatives of the European Union – was held in the city.

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