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Posts tagged ‘Historic Land of Belgium’

Cannon salute marks centenary of WWI battle assault

July 31, 2017

YPRES, Belgium (AP) — A dawn cannon salute in western Belgium has marked the start of one of World War I’s bloodiest battles 100 years ago. Around 100 people gathered Monday at the Welsh memorial in Langemark, near where the Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, began.

More than half a million Allied and German troops were killed or wounded. The Allied campaign, fought by British and Commonwealth forces from July to November 1917 in mud-caked battlefields, barely moved the front line against the Germans.

Welshman Peter Carter-Jones says the ceremony, and other commemorations held over the weekend, were “very moving.” He says “all this has been done for those thousands of young men who died here so we can live in freedom. That is what it is about.”

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Belgium withdraws its jets from the US-led coalition against IS

by Loaa Adel

Apr 9, 2017

Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Belgium has withdrawn its fighter jets, which are participating in the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq, after being accused of massacring civilians in western Mosul.

Belgian Ministry of Defense revealed that it issued a final decree to withdraw its jets from the international coalition against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Belgian Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput declared that that the withdrawal came after accusing Belgian air force of bombing al-Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood, in western Mosul, killing hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, while indicated that his country ordered a probe into the incident.

Meanwhile, the government of Belgium, on Saturday, suspended air force operations above Syria in response to the U.S. cruise missile attack Friday morning that led Russia to end its U.S. – Russian security coordination. The U.S.-led coalition continues operations, but for the time being without Belgian participation above Syria, according to NSNBC News.

Vandeput also hinted at the fact that the Belgian government doesn’t believes the risk of a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO air forces in Syria is too high when he said “The international coalition looks day by day how the situation evolves. … If the coalition says it’s safe enough and asks us to continue the missions, we will do that.”

Source: Iraqi News.

Link: http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/belgium-withdraws-jets-coalition-isis/.

Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visiting Japan

October 11, 2016

TOKYO (AP) — Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are in Japan on an official visit to mark 150 years of ties between the countries. They were welcomed Tuesday by Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at an outdoor ceremony at the Imperial Palace on an overcast fall day.

Philippe and Mathilde also greeted Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. The Belgian royal couple arrived Monday and will stay until Saturday. Philippe also met with Japanese business leaders Tuesday and is expected to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his stay.

The 56-year-old Belgian king ascended to the throne in 2013 after the abdication of his father, King Albert II. Earlier this year, the 82-year-old Akihito indicated his desire to abdicate, but that is pending necessary legislation.

Brussels police chief injured during anti-austerity clashes

May 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Brussels police chief was injured Tuesday during clashes at the end of a major anti-austerity demonstration attended by around 50,000 people in the center of the Belgian capital. Police chief Pierre Vandersmissen was treated for a head injury after he was hit with a stone in the back by a red-clad man and fell to the ground during rock throwing by a few dozen protesters after most of the marchers had already disbanded.

With a pepper spray canister, Vandersmissen had been chasing people who had attacked police even though he was not wearing extensive protective gear. He was taken to hospital and is expected to be released on Wednesday.

The demonstration was called to protest the center-right government’s social and economic policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium’s welfare state. In all, two police officials and eight protesters were injured in the clashes, during which police fired water cannons. About a dozen people were detained. It was a repeat of previous anti-austerity protests when the violence of dozens overshadowed the march of tens of thousands.

The government said in a statement “it condemns the violence committed by a minority” but added it took note of the large size of the demonstration demanding changes. Under the slogan “Our cup runs over” the main unions joined in the march, united in their opposition against moves to increase workers’ flexibility at work, longer careers before pensions kick in and less pay under tougher conditions.

The trade unions say the center-right free market policies of Liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel over the past two years are costing an average family about 100 euros ($112) a month, while the promise of many extra jobs remains elusive. Instead the trade unions want the government to tackle tax evasion.

Socialist union leader Rudy De Leeuw denounced the attack on Vandersmissen and said that if the unidentified attacker turns out to be a member of the union, he will be expelled. “It is the most cowardly thing to do,” he said.

Ten of thousands protest Belgian social, economic policies

May 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ten of thousands of demonstrators have marched through the center of Brussels to protest the center-right government’s social and economic policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium’s welfare state.

Under the slogan “Our cup runs over” the main unions joined in the march, united in their opposition against moves to increase workers’ flexibility at work, longer careers before pensions kick in and less pay under tougher conditions.

The trade unions say the center-right free market policies of Liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel over the past two years are costing an average family some 100 euros ($112) a month, while the promise of many extra jobs remains elusive. Instead the trade unions want the government to tackle tax evasion.

Threat of extreme right march stirs fears in tense Molenbeek

April 01, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — Home to jihadists connected to the deadly bombings in Paris and Brussels, recruiting ground for Islamic State extremists, and witness to repeated police raids, Molenbeek is bracing for a new onslaught.

With extreme-right groups threatening to take the neighborhood by storm Saturday, community leaders fear its predominantly Muslim young people will fight back. “They don’t trust the police and they aren’t going to take it,” said Fouad Ben Abdelkader, a teacher in the neighborhood. On Thursday he joined a meeting of a couple dozen community leaders and mentors to neighborhood youths who feel adrift in mainstream Belgian society.

The group of community organizers was looking for ways to head off an escalation of violence in the largely Muslim neighborhood, hoping to avoid a situation like occurred last Sunday when hundreds of black-clad hooligans shouting Nazi slogans disrupted a memorial at Brussels’ Bourse square for the 32 victims of the March 22 attacks on the airport and subway system.

This time, a relatively unknown Belgian group has pledged to “expel the Islamists” and police warn that extreme-right activists are believed to be converging on Molenbeek from around Europe, even though police banned the scheduled protest and any counter protests in the city as soon as it was announced, largely in reaction to the unrest last week.

At the meeting Thursday, Molenbeek’s youth organizers planned for the worst, themselves skeptical of a police force they say is unprepared and unwilling to listen to their concerns. “There are some messages that are clearly calling for violence against Muslims. And there have been repercussions on social networks among young people, families, saying we have to get mobilized to defend our little brothers, our sisters, our mothers. Seeing that last weekend the police didn’t do their job and didn’t succeed in avoiding clashes, that creates mistrust,” said Sarah Turine, a Molenbeek councilwoman who called the meeting in hopes of heading off problems.

Outside the non-descript building where the meeting took place, Molenbeek’s weekly market filled Saint John the Baptist square and the neighborhood’s central walkway — both central gathering places, which concerned residents are contemplating blocking off for the day. Also under consideration is simply insulating Molenbeek, closing off the streets from the outside and shutting down the neighborhood subway stops, allowing trains to pass through. But it is feared even that will not be enough.

“People who want to mix it up with hooligans will seek them out,” said Hisham Nasi, a slender man with a jaunty topknot, only marginally older than the kids he has organized into a youth council. It has been two weeks since the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted fugitive and a Molenbeek native who was found — after four months on the run — back home where he started. The neighborhood has been a center for jihadi recruiters for years, and those who met Thursday are among the people who have worked the hardest to reverse the blight. But, they say, there is plenty of blame to go around for ease with which some young people are marginalized.

At times shouting over one another, the group agreed that Friday prayers would be a key moment to enlist the help of families. They planned to set up a single emergency number to warn of impending disturbances. They batted around the idea of sending out text messages, Facebook posts. Anything to try and keep the peace.

“Out of 10 kids, eight will get the message,” said Ben Abdelkader. But, he added, “this is a radical generation, radical in their words, radical in their actions.” They placed hope — but little faith — in Belgian authorities to block the groups from Molenbeek.

“For several young people, I’ve told them the police will keep things in hand and they have a hard time believing it,” Turine said. “On Sunday there were a lot of mistakes and this time we don’t have the margin for error.”

Police were not at the meeting, but Turine met with them on Wednesday and secured promises that the situation was under control, and that the extreme-right troublemakers would be blocked. And even if the protest doesn’t materialize, they mused, there could be streets full of tense police and young men from the neighborhood spoiling for trouble. All it would take is one confrontation, several said, leaving the conclusion unsaid.

“I prefer to deal with the kid I know I can cope with rather than the cops who can do anything they want,” Ben Abdelkader said.

Riot at Brussels attacks shrine; 13 anti-terror raids made

March 27, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian riot police clashed Sunday with hundreds of right-wing hooligans at a temporary shrine honoring victims of the Brussels suicide bombings, as investigators launched fresh anti-terror raids, taking four more people into custody.

Police used water cannon when scuffles broke out in front of the Bourse, which has become a symbolic rallying point for people to pay their respects to those who died in Tuesday’s attacks. Black clad men carrying an anti-Islamic State group banner with an expletive on it trampled parts of the shrine, shouting Nazi slogans. Ten were arrested and two police officers injured.

“We had 340 hooligans from different football clubs who came to Brussels and we knew for sure that they would create some trouble,” Police Commissioner Christian De Coninck said. “It was a very difficult police operation because lots of families with kids were here.”

Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur expressed his disgust, with Belgium still in mourning over the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and subway, which killed at least 31 people and injured some 270. “The police were not deployed to protect people from these hooligans but a whole other threat,” said Mayeur told RTL television.

People trying to pay their respects were also dismayed. “It was important for us to be here symbolically,” said Samia Orosemane, a 35-year-old comedian. But, she added, “there were lots of men who were here and doing the Nazi salute, shouting ‘death to Arabs’ and so we weren’t able to get through.”

“We are all here today for peace, and for the brotherhood among peoples. Not for right-wing ideas. It’s neither the time nor the place,” said Theophile Mouange, 52. Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, said Sunday morning’s raids were linked a “federal case regarding terrorism” but did not specify whether it had any links to the March 22 attacks.

Thirteen raids were launched in the capital and the northern cities of Mechelen and Duffel. An investigating judge was to decide later whether to keep the four in custody. Five were released after questioning.

Suspected plotters also were arrested Sunday in Italy and the Netherlands, though few details of their activity were released immediately. Tuesday’s bomb attacks are also tearing at the fabric of the government, justice system and police, and Belgium’s interior minister sought Sunday to contain the growing criticism of the government’s handling of the tragedy.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon conceded Sunday that decades of neglect had hampered the government’s response to violent extremism. He said the government has invested 600 million euros ($670 million) into police and security services over the past two years but that Belgium’s justice system and security services are still lagging behind.

Jambon, whose offer to resign Thursday was declined by the prime minister, also acknowledged some shortcomings prior to the attacks. “There have been errors,” he said on VRT television. Jambon said it takes time to hire anti-terror specialists and specialized equipment and insisted that the government’s new investments need time before they become visible to the public.

As international pressure on Belgium has mounted for serving as an unwitting rear-base for extremist fighters who launched the Nov. 13 massacres that left 130 dead in Paris, the government has felt forced to defend its choices and the actions of investigators. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are demanding an inquiry.

Belgian police and the army have been deployed, sometimes around the clock, at major buildings and sites in the capital in increasing numbers since November, when Brussels went into lockdown over fears that top Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam had returned and was hiding there.

As it turned out, Abdeslam did return, but police did not find and arrest him until March 18, four days before suspects from his network exploded suicide bombs in Brussels. Belgian investigators have been slammed for not questioning Abdeslam long enough or hard enough after he was shot in the leg during his arrest. Police have also been criticized for taking too long to get to Zaventem airport on Tuesday morning after two suicide bombers blew themselves up there — and left an even bigger third suitcase full of explosives that did not go off.

Jambon and Justice Minister Keen Goens were grilled by lawmakers Friday over how authorities failed to arrest suicide bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui before he blew himself in the packed departure hall at Brussels Airport.

Turkey has said that Bakraoui — whose brother Khalid was the suicide bomber at the Maelbeek subway station on Tuesday — was caught near Turkey’s border with Syria in 2015 and Ankara had warned Brussels and the Netherlands that he was “a foreign terrorist fighter.” Belgian authorities said they did not know he was suspected of terror-related activities until after he was deported to the Netherlands.

Jambon also said the Brussels subway network had been told to shut off services around 20 minutes before the attack at the subway station, which is close to both the European Union headquarters and the U.S. embassy. He did not fully explain why it was not closed in time, raising more questions about the efficiency of Belgium’s security services.

Dutch police arrested a 32-year-old Frenchman in the port city of Rotterdam on Sunday at the request of French authorities who suspect him of “involvement in planning a terror attack,” prosecutors said. The suspect, whose identity was not released, is expected to be extradited to France soon.

The suspect was allegedly involved in a plot disrupted by police in the Paris region last week, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. Another Frenchman, Reda Kriket, was detained Thursday in that plot, and remains in custody.

An official with the Paris prosecutor’s office said there is no sign of a link at this stage between Kriket’s purported plot and a network behind attacks in Brussels and Paris in recent months. Three other men were detained in the Dutch raids; two with Algerian backgrounds and a third man whose identity could not immediately be established.

Italian police in the southern city of Salerno said Sunday that they had arrested an Algerian wanted in Belgium for an alleged false ID crime ring. Djamal Eddine Ouali was arrested Saturday in the town of Bellizzi, said Luigi Amato, the head of Salerno police’s anti-terrorism squad. Ouali, 40, was being held in jail while authorities expect extradition procedures to soon begin.

Belgian prosecutors said Sunday that the man is thought to have made false documents for some of the attackers in the Nov. 13 massacre in Paris, including top suspect Salah Abdeslam. Investigators are trying to establish whether the same false ID ring provided papers for the March 22 attackers.

David Keyton in Brussels, Angela Charlton in Paris, Mike Corder in Amsterdam and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.

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