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BRUSSELS — Thousands of people in Belgium and beyond observed a minute of silence on Wednesday, the first of three official days of mourning for the victims of the airport and subway terror attacks.
Despite a manhunt for suspect at large, huge crowds gathered in the Place de la Bourse in Brussels to honor the 31 victims of the explosions. The silence was observed at noon local time (7 a.m. ET) at the European Parliament as well as in other capitals including London and Madrid.
Signs of mourning are apparent throughout Brussels, from the flags flown at half-staff to electronic billboards scrolling through tweets of solidarity using the hashtag #JeSuisBruxelles.
Late Tuesday, hundreds of Bruxellois gathered outside the Bourse, writing messages of support on the sidewalk in chalk in front of the landmark. Some formed hearts with tea lights while others added to a growing memorial of flags, flowers and tributes.
The memorial was Belgian in every way — from the flags propped in Trappist beer bottles to the young people quietly eating the city's famous "frites" — or fries — on the stairs of the Bourse under a banner reading "United Against Hatred."
Gwendoline Pereira and her boyfriend Kevin Ferelol stood arm in arm at the top of the stairs, silently taking in the scene below.
"This affects us all, Pereira, 21, told NBC News. "It affects everyone ... It could hit anyone or anywhere. We're very emotional."
She and Ferelol, 22, recently moved to Brussels from France — a country that too has been rocked by recent devastating acts of terrorism.
The attacks show "we're not safe anywhere, " Ferelol said. "In France, the U.S., here ... We never would have believed it."
Coming to the Bourse to pay tribute has been cathartic and symbolic for them, the couple said.
"We were home all day and to see all the people here — it helps us," Pereira said.
"It's a symbol — to be here and show protest," Ferelol added. "It's a way to say, 'we're still here'."