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Posts tagged ‘Historic Land of Belgium’

Catalan ex-leader to speak in Brussels as asylum rumors grow

October 31, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Catalonia’s ousted regional president will give a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, European officials said, as speculation mounted that he might seek political asylum in Belgium and try to avoid possible prosecution in Spain for declaring Catalan independence.

Carles Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against him and other Catalan officials.

Puigdemont is due to speak shortly at the Brussels Press Club, which is right next to the European Union’s headquarters. He walked into the building past a few protesters with Spanish national flags and pro-unity signs, including ones that that said “Rule of Law” and “Not in my Name. Long live Spain.”

Over the weekend, a Belgian government official said that it wouldn’t be “unrealistic” for Puigdemont to request asylum. Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said that the central government in Madrid would be surprised if Puigdemont sought asylum in Belgium and were granted protection there.

Dastis told Spain’s Cadena SER radio that there is a level of “reciprocal trust” about the rule of law among members of the European Union. “It would be surprising that he could receive the right to asylum under the current circumstances,” Dastis said, adding that the acceptance of an asylum petition “would not be a situation of normality” in relations between the two countries.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren’t extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction. Spain took control over prosperous northeastern Catalonia this weekend after Puigdemont led the regional parliament to proclaim a new republic on Friday. The Spanish government immediately sacked him and his Cabinet, dissolved the regional parliament and called a new Catalan election for Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Supreme Court said Tuesday it will investigate six ex-members of the governing body of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament for possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the parliament’s declaration of independence last week. The six include ex-speaker of the parliament Carme Forcadell, one of the leading activists of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement for many years.

The ruling Tuesday came a day after Spain’s chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza announced he was seeking charges. Rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, respectively. Maza is also seeking similar charges against ousted regional leader Carles Puigdemont, and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras.

One of the main separatist civil society groups of Catalonia, the National Catalan Assembly, said Tuesday it accepted the regional election, despite the fact it was called under the Spanish government’s intervention.

The group, whose leader is in jail on provisional sedition charges, is not a political party but it has been the driving civic force behind the independence movement in recent years. It said grassroots organizations need to prepare a “joint strategy” ahead of the elections with the goal of “obtaining an uncontested victory that will ratify the Republic.”

Meanwhile, some of the official websites of the Catalan government tied to the previous administration were down Tuesday, in a further sign of the takeover by central authorities.

Aritz Parra reported from Barcelona, Spain.

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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.”

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.

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