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Social unrest spreads to Belgium

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Riot police watch as smoke bellows from blazing cars in Toulouse.

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(CNN) -- After more than two weeks of nightly rioting and arson in France, unrest spread northeastwards to Belgium, where more than two dozen similar incidents took place overnight Saturday.

In Brussels, five cars and two buses were set afire and about 50 people were arrested near the Stock Exchange, said Octaaf Pauwels, the attache of the government's Permanency Coordination and Crisis Center, in a written statement.

Reasons for the arrests included carrying dangerous objects and refusing to obey police, Pauwels said.

He credited social workers with persuading a number of those involved -- primarily youngsters -- not to cause trouble, the statement said.

In and around Liege, nine vehicles were damaged by fire and other vehicles were damaged, he said.

Around Charleroi, south of Brussels, nine vehicles were damaged by fire. Southeast of Brussels, near Louvain-la-Neuve, three vehicles were damaged by arson, as was one in nearby Binche.

No one was hurt in any of the incidents, and there was no evidence that the activity was organized, the attache said, adding that "the situation remained reasonably quiet."

The incidents marked the first in Belgium after 17 consecutive nights of arson in France, where more than 300 vehicles burned overnight Saturday into Sunday morning. (Full story)

Officials said 2,600 arrests and 8,400 vehicle fires have occurred in France during that time.

Most of the rioters, French officials have said, are French youths who believe they are the victims of discrimination.

The riots began after the October 27 electrocution deaths of two black immigrant teenagers on the outskirts of Paris who climbed an electrically charged fence while running from police.

Residents in the area blamed police for the deaths.

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