With a combination of defiance, sadness and anger, people in Brussels tried to return to normality after the terrorist massacre that many feared was coming.

Unlike in November, when central Brussels went into virtual lockdown as authorities warned of an imminent attack days after terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, this time Belgium's capital tried to get on with life as normal: schools opened, buses and trams ran and drinkers sipped espressos at pavement cafes.

In a pedestrianised square outside the city's 19th-century stock exchange, a crowd gathered to share opinions, hug strangers and chant "We won't give up." Officials at European Union institutions, located close to one of the explosions, joined people across the country in holding a minute's silence at noon.

A sign reads
A sign reads "Why?"; in English, French and Flemish behind candles and flowers near the Maelbeek metro station, in Brussels. Photo / AP

IN THEIR WORDS

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In Belgium, it's not every day that we show solidarity politically. It's important that you aren't alone in your sadness.

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Life is very different now. There is always a risk that something like that may occur again.

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I felt shocked but I was not surprised; it could have been expected. Hatred, fear and chaos are exactly what Islamic State wants and we shouldn't give in to that. I'm worried about the reactions this will provoke towards refugees and Muslims in and outside of Europe.

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You feel the tension in the air. The metro is closed and the people who are driving are stressed. It's worrying.

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