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Brussels protest was about rising cost of living, not NATO

June 24, 2022 GMT
Members of various trade unions march during a demonstration to protest against the rising cost of living in Brussels, Monday, June 20, 2022. Social media users misrepresented a video from the protest falsely claiming the demonstration was predominantly anti-NATO. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Members of various trade unions march during a demonstration to protest against the rising cost of living in Brussels, Monday, June 20, 2022. Social media users misrepresented a video from the protest falsely claiming the demonstration was predominantly anti-NATO. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Members of various trade unions march during a demonstration to protest against the rising cost of living in Brussels, Monday, June 20, 2022. Social media users misrepresented a video from the protest falsely claiming the demonstration was predominantly anti-NATO. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Members of various trade unions march during a demonstration to protest against the rising cost of living in Brussels, Monday, June 20, 2022. Social media users misrepresented a video from the protest falsely claiming the demonstration was predominantly anti-NATO. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Members of various trade unions march during a demonstration to protest against the rising cost of living in Brussels, Monday, June 20, 2022. Social media users misrepresented a video from the protest falsely claiming the demonstration was predominantly anti-NATO. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

CLAIM: Video shows tens of thousands of people protesting in Brussels under the slogan “Stop NATO.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Trade unions organized a national march in Brussels on Monday to protest the rising cost of living and call for an increase in wages, reporting from The Associated Press and promotional materials from the unions show. While at least one sign was pictured displaying an anti-NATO message, the majority of protesters were marching against the rising cost of living.

THE FACTS: After thousands of trade union workers marched wearing red, green and blue as part of a strike action in Brussels this week, social media users mischaracterized video from the protest to claim it was predominantly an anti-NATO demonstration.

One misleading tweet shared a video of the march, saying, “around 80,000 people’s under the slogan ‘Stop NATO!’ Demonstration is taking place.”

The claim was also shared in a tweet by a Chinese state media outlet. In response, the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday shared a screenshot of the since-deleted post, placing red lines through it and calling the claim “false.”

“This is what we call #disinformation,” the ministry wrote. “The demonstration in Brussels on Monday, June 20, asked for more purchasing power and was in NO WAY directed against @NATO or our support to Ukraine in the war waged against this country by Russia.”

A handout posted on union websites calling to organize on Monday shows the logos of three trade unions, the General Labor Federation of Belgium, or ABVV-FGTB, Confederation of Christian Trade Unions, ACV-CSC, and General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium, ACLVB-CGSLB.

“Because life is more and more expensive. The prices of gas, electricity, heating oil, gasoline, diesel, but also bread, coffee, pasta…everything is rising too fast…except wages!” read a post about the march, in French, on ABVV-FGTB’s website. “We must change the law on the wage standard (known as the law of 1996), the law which prevents us from negotiating real wage increases.”

The description of the march made no mention of NATO. Instead, demonstrators were largely gathering to criticize rising inflation and demand salary increases. Protesters also demanded an amendment to the 1996 wage standards law in Belgium that regulates wage developments.

One photo taken by an AP photographer shows that a protester held up a sign saying, “Belgium out of NATO,” but AP journalists who documented the protest confirmed that the overall stance of the march was protesting the rising cost of living.

In Belgium, inflation reached 9% in June, according to the consumer price index. Demonstrators shouted in French “Increase our salaries, now,” while others held a banner stating: “Life Is Expensive, Raise Our Salaries!” AP video of the march shows

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.