Europe News

Twitter users express support for Brussels with its iconic fountain

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The statue of a cheekily urinating boy that has long drawn tourists to Brussels’ city center took on a new role on the Internet on Tuesday after attacks in the city that killed at least 30 people.

People gather around a memorial featuring a Menneken-Pis statue in Brussels. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The cherubic Manneken Pis, belovedly irreverent icon of the Bruxellois, was shown relieving himself on a Kalashnikov in images on Twitter using the colors of the Belgian flag: a red boy and yellow gun against a black background. #mannekenpis

The colors also lit up the Eiffel Tower, symbol of Paris, where people shared sympathies linked by November’s attacks in the French capital apparently planned by Islamist militants in Brussels.

Close to Mannekin Pis, thousands of people gathered in one of Brussels’ main squares to lay flowers under banners echoing the slogan #JeSuisBruxelles.

Brussels residents also tweeted offers of help to people stranded in the city rooms and transport after twin attacks, claimed by Islamic State, on the airport and a rush-hour metro train.

The Brussels Chamber of Commerce said hotels would offer free rooms to families and friends of the victims.

A new Twitter account called “Brussels Lift” was created to help connect “people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats”.

People were using the hashtag #BrusselsLift to ask for rides and offer car spaces.

Offers included #ikwillhelpen (I want to help) and tags such as #PorteOuverte and #OpenHouse, first used to show solidarity with Paris after November’s attacks in which 130 died.

The Brussels blasts, close to European Union institutions, triggered security alerts across Europe and halted some cross-border transport.

Police cordoned off a wide area around the glass and steel EU buildings, putting soldiers on streets that lead down the main avenue through the area where the metro explosion took place and blocking access from Brussels’ main park.

Flights in and out of Brussels were canceled and the city went into lockdown with the government urging people to use data services such as WhatsApp to avoid over-burdening phone networks. Brussels airport will remain closed on Wednesday, CEO Arnaud Feist said.

Other public transport began gradually to reopen.

The Brussels Chamber of Commerce said hotels were offering free rooms but it was too early to say how many would be available.

Plantu, the celebrated cartoonist for French newspaper Le Monde, drew a figure in the red, white and blue of the French flag hugging another in the red, gold and black tricolor of Belgium. Both were in tears.

Scores of people gathered on the pedestrian zone in central Brussels to scrawl messages such as “BXL forever”, “We are one”, “Pray for Belgium”, “Let’s take back control of our world”, and “Don’t touch my country”.

Facebook FB.O activated its "safety check" feature after the attacks, enabling users to reassure friends and relatives.

People used the hashtags #JeSuisBelge (I am Belgian) and #JeSuisBruxelles (I am Brussels) to express solidarity.

Editing by Ruth Pitchford