BRUSSELS, (Xinhua) — Thousands of Belgian soldiers and military officers took to the streets here on Tuesday to protest the government’s plan to raise the retirement age for military personnel.
The demonstration started around noon at Brussels North Station, and lasted until the late afternoon.
Soldiers and military officers in plainclothes marched across the city waving flags and shouting slogans. Some protesters carried lemons, symbolizing that they had been “squeezed out.”
Local media reported that the demonstration went out of control at a certain point and the police had to use tear gas and water cannons against angry protesters who tried to occupy the entrance of the ministry of defense.
VSOA Defensie, the labor union of the Belgian armed forces, estimated that nearly 8,000 military personnel took part in the protest, which fell on Nov. 15, King’s Feast.
Under Belgian laws, soldiers are not allowed to strike, but they can participate in demonstrations on holidays, a representative from the union told Xinhua.
The Belgian government made a decision in October to raise the retirement age of military personnel from 56 to 63, as from 2017.
The reform package also includes more conditions on their pension, such as setting a minimum number of service years.
The military labor union strongly opposes the plan, saying that Belgian soldiers have been working extremely hard since the country raised the level of terrorist threat after the Paris attacks last November, and their rights should not be stripped away.