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Grieving Brussels holds vigil at historic city square
[BRUSSELS] "Brussels I love you" says the message written in chalk on a historic city square, a place for raucous celebration that has become a scene of grief after Belgium's worst terror attacks on Tuesday.
Wrapped in the national flag and carrying candles and flowers, Belgians flocked by the hundreds by nightfall to the Place de la Bourse in the ancient heart of the city to mourn the dead.
A lone musician played a cello as a mourner waved a banner reading "United against hate" and another message scrawled on the ground said: "Christians + Muslims + Jews = humanity".
"It's important to get together after moments like these," Leila Devin, 22, told AFP.
"It shows we're united against terror." Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel too came after dark and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also paid homage to the dead.
"Tonight I am Belgian," an emotional Mr Juncker said.
The symbolic heart of Europe, home to the EU's top institutions, was reeling after at least 30 people were killed in bombings at Zaventem Airport and on a metro train.
"It's sad, it's unfortunate, it's shocking," said Sofiane, an Algerian student, who had come to pay her respects.
Near the square, the usually bustling pedestrian streets of the city centre were nearly empty, with many shops closed.
And a stone's throw away, there were no visitors by the iconic Manneken Pis statue of a young boy urinating, usually surrounded by a crowd of tourists waiting in line to snap a picture.
All day, the sound of police and ambulance sirens echoed through the streets, with roads cut off by heavily armed soldiers and police officers.
As night fell some signs of normalcy returned, with trains running from the main station and some roads opening up.
But on the Place de la Bourse, where the country traditionally celebrates the victories of its "Red Devils" footballers, the crowd continued to swell.
Like Belgium's football team, the attacks have sparked a rare moment of unity in a country that is normally deeply divided between its French and Flemish-speaking communities.
"My mother and I came to show we're proud of being Belgian and that we're not scared. Because this morning I was terrified," said Analphia Desmet, a 22-year-old communications student.
As more and more flowers were placed on the square and the crowd joined together to sing John Lennon's "Imagine", mourners waved banners saying "Je Suis Bruxelles" (I am Brussels) and "Brussels is beautiful".
"We're here to say we're not scared, there's a dozen of them but we are thousands," said Belgian student Juliette.