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Attacks will have ‘catastrophic’ effect on Brussels: MEP

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Explosions will have ‘catastrophic' effect on Brussels: MEP
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With Easter expected to be a peak time for tourism, the explosions will have a "catastrophic" effect on the city of Brussels, a British MEP in the Belgian capital told CNBC.

"It's a very, very busy part of Brussels, and it was at a time when people were all going to work and going about what would have been an ordinary, normal Tuesday in Brussels. So the effect is going to be pretty catastrophic on Brussels," Richard Ashworth, Conservative MEP for South East England, told CNBC Tuesday.

"I remember back to the last lockdown (around) Christmas, the town was simply deserted – a town which at Christmas is heaving with tourists. Now we're coming to the Easter break – no doubt a peak time for tourism in Brussels – and yet again for the town this is going to be quite catastrophic I'd have thought."

People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.
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A police woman gestures in front of ambulances at the scene of a blast outside a metro station in Brussels, in this still image taken from video on March 22, 2016.
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At the time of the interview, Ashworth was speaking from inside the European Parliament in Brussels, which was on lockdown, following a series of explosions that took place in the Belgian capital.

While an official death toll is yet to be released, at least 31 people are reported to have died in explosions at Brussels' main airport, and at the Maelbeek metro system, which is located near the EU institutions.

Eyewitness account

Describing the event from inside the building, Ashworth said there was an "immense amount of uncertainty" in the city, and security had been put at maximum level.

"Things have quieted down a little right now, but the situation nevertheless remains very uncertain. All public services have been cancelled here in Brussels for the day and effectively I suspect that the town is going back into lockdown which we last saw in (November)."

In late November, the capital went on lockdown as police carried out a number of raids in and around the city, in search for those behind the deadly attacks seen in Paris that month. Just a few days prior to Tuesday's attacks, one of the suspects Salah Abdeslam was captured in a police raid in Brussels.

Having viewed the aftermath of the attack at Maelbeek station, Politico reporter, Zoya Sheftalovich told CNBC it was "general pandemonium", with emergency services having difficulty reaching those wounded.

With many wondering if Tuesday's events are related to Abdeslam's arrest, Ashworth said if this is the case, it would be quite reasonable to presume there's a "bigger community" supporting the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Brussels, than originally believed.

"It is clear that the Brussels authorities will clamp down again and have a very, very high level of security for some time. But if we do have a big (IS) community (that's) well-resourced, able to carry out exercises like this, it's easy to see that – whereas before they committed acts in Paris – other European cities would be just as vulnerable."

"The nations need to work together on this and it's intelligence which I think is a big issue, sharing intelligence, gathering intelligence, working together on intelligence."

"The message is loud and clear: we need to work together."

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By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi