Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

Belgium takes back Brussels’ Grand Mosque from Saudi government — reports it promotes radicalism

March 16, 2018


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium is taking back control of the Grand Mosque of Brussels by terminating Saudi Arabia’s lease of the building with immediate effect over concerns it promotes radicalism, the government said on Friday.

 Image result for Grand Mosque in Brussels, photos

FILE PHOTO: View of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, Belgium, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

The announcement is Belgium’s first official confirmation of the move which comes after months of behind the scenes diplomacy to prevent any fall-out with Saudi Arabia, as reported by Reuters in February.

Concerns over Brussels’ biggest mosque, located near the European Union’s headquarters, surfaced after Islamist militants who plotted their assault in Brussels killed 130 people in Paris in 2015, and 32 in the Belgian capital in 2016.

 Image result for Grand Mosque in Brussels, photos

Friday’s decision breaks Saudi Arabia’s unusual 99-year, rent free use of the building, the government said.

“The concession will be terminated immediately … in order to put an end to foreign interference in the way Islam is taught in Belgium,” the Belgian government said in a statement.

Belgium leased the Grand Mosque to Riyadh in 1969, giving Saudi-backed imams access to a growing Muslim immigrant community, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, in return for cheaper oil for its industry.

It has been run by the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL), a missionary society mainly funded by Saudi Arabia. The MWL denies it espouses violence.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon tweeted of Friday’s announcement that “in this way we are tackling Salafist, violent extremist influences.”

Riyadh’s quick acceptance of Brussels’ request to relinquish the lease reflects a new readiness by the kingdom to promote a more moderate form of Islam – one of the more ambitious promises made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under plans to transform Saudi Arabia and reduce its reliance on oil.

The handover of the mosque coincides with a new Saudi initiative, not publicly announced but described to Reuters by Western officials, to end support for mosques and religious schools abroad blamed for spreading radical ideas.

Justice Minister Koen Geens said the sprawling complex will instead house the offices of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, an official body which represents Muslim communities across the country.

The mosque will have to register as a place of worship, he said.

Geens and other Belgian leaders couched the move as a way to promote a “European Islam” better aligned with their values – a familiar refrain across Europe following recent Islamic State attacks.

“From now on, the mosque will have to establish a lasting relation with the Belgian authorities, while respecting the laws and the traditions of our country, which convey a tolerant vision of Islam,” Geens said.

In what he decribed as a way to promote more “diversity and tran


EU tells Poland time running out to restore rule of law

February 27, 2018


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Western EU states told Poland on Tuesday that time was running out for it to address concerns in a dispute over democratic freedoms, but held off from further action as a deadline for a response from Warsaw approaches.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Poland urging Duda to exercise his veto [Reuters]Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Poland last year

In a long-running and bruising clash, the executive European Commission has accused Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party of undermining the rule of law with reforms to the judiciary and state media since taking power in late 2015.

After repeatedly declining to backtrack on its judicial reforms, Warsaw has now sat down to negotiations as paralell talks on the bloc’s next joint budget starting in 2021 get under way.

EU ministers held their third debate on the matter in Brussels on Tuesday, with Germany and France warning Poland against using discussions with the Commission as a smokescreen.

“The clock is ticking. The European Commission and a series of EU members are very concerned about the rule of law situation, particularly the independence of the judiciary,” said Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for EU affairs.

“In recent days I have noticed positive signals of willingness (from Poland) to engage in dialogue. That’s an important point, but at the end it’s not about promises but concrete acts,” Roth told reporters.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Brussels has recommended that the bloc launch an unprecedented Article 7 punitive procedure against Warsaw – which could lead to suspending Poland’s voting rights in the EU – unless it concedes ground by March 20.


Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said Warsaw would soon publish an explanation of some 13 laws PiS has passed on the court system to demonstrate to other EU states it acted to rid Poland of the vestiges of communist rule.

“We expect member states to make their own assessment of this situation and really consider whether there is any serious risk of a serious breach of the rule of law. In our view, there is no such serious risk,” he said.

The Commission and the bloc’s founding members – which include the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy as well as France and Germany – say the PiS measures risk undermining the EU’s internal market and judicial cooperation.

“The need for reform of the judiciary can never be an excuse to enhance political control over the judiciary. The judiciary should be independent. The separation of powers is a fundamental principle,” Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans said.

Timmermans said he would assess the new Polish document when it comes to see whether it was promising enough to continue talks, or else ask EU states to take action against Warsaw.

Stripping Poland of its voting rights is highly unlikely to occur because it would require unanimity, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised to block any such action against his Polish ally.

But the dispute could badly hurt Poland if other member states move to cut vital funding in the looming budget talks. Poland is currently the biggest beneficiary of the EU budget.

Senior Polish officials have hinted Warsaw could tweak some of the new judiciary laws, though details have yet to be agreed.

The ministerial session on Tuesday ran for longer than planned, suggesting a lively discussion. Some of Poland’s fellow ex-communist neighbors said the Commission should not push Warsaw too hard.

“Today is no time for decisions,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, adding that Poland’s willingness to enter again into talks with Brussels represented “huge progress”.

German patients turn to Croatia for organ donations — “One life came to an end and helped save another one.”

January 31, 2018

The number of people willing to donate organs in Germany has hit an all-time low. Patients in the country are increasingly dependent on a European cross-border organ exchange program.

Organ transplant surgery (picture-alliance/epa/B. Mohai)

Yasmin Redjepagic will never forget the sunny autumn afternoon in 2010 when her father died. “He had a stroke,” she said. “It happened very fast. He was only 65 years old. Our family was shocked; it was so sudden, so unexpected. It just came out of the blue.”

While Yasmin’s family was mourning his death, she got a phone call from the hospital in Zagreb where her father had been treated. The doctors there asked if they could remove healthy organs from the deceased. Yasmin’s father was registered as a potential organ donor. The family asked for some time to think it over and shortly afterwards, they consented.

“Our parents always thought that it was better to save the lives of other people than to let the organs be wasted,” Yasmin said. “All of our family members are potential organ donors. We have spoken about it often.”

Croatia‘s donor network

Yasmin’s family members are reflective of a growing trend. While the number of potential donors has been dropping drastically in Germany for years now, more and more Croatians are willing to donate organs. Nikola Zgrablic, the president of the Croatian Donor Network (HDM), says that German patients are reaping the benefits of changing habits in Croatia.

“In 2017, we had 132 donors whose organs were actually removed,” he said. “We have more than 30 organ donations per 1 million inhabitants. This makes Croatia one of the most successful of the eight countries in the Eurotransplant Foundation, which allocates donated organs.”

Screenshot HDM Croatia ( patients in Germany benefit from organ transplants through Croatia’s donor network, the HDM

Croatia’s organ donor program is based on an opt-out arrangement. That means every citizen can theoretically become an organ donor if they have not explicitly stated their refusal to do so before they die. In Germany, however, citizens 16 years of age and older must register their decision to donate organs.

The Spanish system

At just 9.3 organ donations per 1 million inhabitants, Germany has one of the lowest percentages of actual organ donations in Europe. Spain lead worldwide with 46.9 donors per 1 million inhabitants in 2017.

“Croatia has practically copied the Spanish system,” Zgrablic told DW. “What is extremely important is the fact that the transplantation managers, meaning the key figures in the organ donor system, are all doctors who work in hospitals.”

This means doctors work locally. They can identify and register potential donors, train staff and provide support to family members.

“Donating an organ is a humane, dignified deed,” said Yasmin. “However, we must not forget that it involves a tragedy, the death of a family member. It is not merely a bureaucratic process, but also a deeply moral issue. People need the support and empathy of medical professionals. That is what helped us in these sorrowful circumstances.”

Heart transplant (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck)Germany has one of the lowest percentages of organ donation in Europe

Her father’s organs were removed in the middle of the night. The doctor in charge of the procedure called the next morning to thank the family and tell them it was over.

“That gesture moved us deeply,” Yasmin said. “After the shock and endless grief over the premature loss of my father, I felt that we had done something good. One life came to an end and helped save another one.”

Government support for donor system

The Croatian organ donor system has been kept alive by dedicated doctors like Nikola Zgrablic. In recent years, the government has also been helping the organ donor system with more funding, supportive legislation and infrastructure.

Germany benefits greatly from the willingness of other countries to donate organs. In 2017, as in past years, German hospitals received hearts, livers and kidneys from Eurotransplant — around 200 organs from Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia reached Germany through the network.

According to the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO), around 10 thousand seriously ill people nationwide are on a waiting list for organ donations. On average, three of them die every day because a suitable organ is not available on time.

Palestinians search for alternatives to US-led peace process

January 29, 2018

A Palestinian student from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank protests against the reduction of the services of the UN agency and against US president’s decision to cut aid, on Sunday. (AFP)
AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has triggered a frantic search for a new strategy toward ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.
During the Palestine Central Council meeting earlier this month, Abbas angrily declared that US-brokered negotiations were over after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Abbas’ two-hour speech in front of the 80-member council was followed by a boycott of the visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
The Palestinian leadership has triggered the pursuit of a more even-handed mechanism to handle negotiations with Israel.
Hani Al-Masri, a Ramallah-based Palestinian analyst, described Abbas’ speech as having delved “deep into history, passed quickly over the present, and largely — almost totally — ignored the future.”
But Abbas did give some hints about possible options ahead.
Palestinians have long claimed the talks were biased in favor of Israel and Abbas called for any further discussion to be brokered by an international committee.
He also said they would pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, encourage popular resistance and continue to work with Israeli peace activists.
International sponsors
Abbas dispatched emissaries to Russia and China soon after Trump broke with decades of US policy with his Jerusalem declaration last month.
But the focus of Palestinian diplomatic strategy has been on Europe where the hope is that Brussels can provide balance to the pro-Israel US role.
Abbas visited Belgium last week and urged European countries to respond by recognizing the state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. But the plea was met with a muted response.
Slovenia’s foreign minister said he hoped his country would later this year become the 10th European nation to recognize Palestine. Sweden is the only country to have recognized Palestine while being part of the EU. Countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary did so before joining the bloc. Ireland, Portugal, Luxemburg and Belgium are debating whether to follow suit.
While the EU assured Abbas of its commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, there was little support during his visit for his call to immediately recognize the Palestinian state, Reuters reported.
The EU is the biggest donor of aid to Palestinians but it is also the largest trade partner with Israel.
In a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, the head of Palestine’s mission to the US, Husam Zomlot told a delegation of European diplomats that the issue is no longer one of the negotiations but of implementation.
“The time is ripe for the activation of the international community led by Europe to take a lead role in a peace implementation process that is based on international law,” he said.
While efforts in Brussels and other international moves will continue, it is not expected that this alone will lead to significant progress in the near future.
Non-violent resistance
For many Palestinians, the only realistic and possible alternative to US-led peace talks is what Abbas referred to as “peaceful popular resistance.”
The Palestinian president praised the tactics deployed during the first intifada, which started in 1987, and made it clear that he abhors violence.
Mubarak Awad the founder of the International Center for Nonviolence told Arab News that peaceful resistance must be a dedicated strategy, not a short-term tactic.
“We are requesting many groups, organization, colleges, universities, and churches to boycott, divest and sanction Israel yet we eat Israeli products.”
He suggested that Palestine begin forming local communities to take care of people in preparation for an economic struggle against Israel that will inevitably lead to a cut in the Palestinian budget.
“Local bodies need to organize, prepare and help their members to be prepared for the cost and sacrifice that will come with the struggle for freedom and independence. They need to work towards bringing unity and self-reliance.”
At the present time, Awad and others are aware that neither Abbas nor most of his Fatah movement are capable of leading a physically demanding national non-violent campaign.
The majority of Fatah activists are deeply embroiled in the Palestinian government and most of its leaders are over 65.
Awad also suggested that Palestinians should consider using a different currency than the Israeli Shekel, such as the Jordanian dinar, Egyptian pound, or create a Palestinian currency.
There is also the challenge of political apathy among Palestinian parties and factions, especially in Gaza where living conditions are the worst and people feel they have been pawns in the hands of local and regional powers and ideologies.

Former Catalan president in Denmark despite Madrid arrest threat

January 22, 2018


Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont answers journalists’ questions upon his arrival at Copenhagen airport on January 22. Spain’s prosecution service has said it would “immediately” have a supreme court judge issue a warrant for his arrest if he traveled to Denmark. (AFP)
COPENHAGEN: Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrived in Copenhagen on Monday, defying a threat by Madrid to issue a warrant for his arrest if he leaves Belgium, where he has been in exile since a failed independence bid.
Danish broadcaster TV2 released an image on its website of Puigdemont being surrounded by reporters after his plane landed in Copenhagen Airport.
A source in his entourage also confirmed his arrival in the Danish capital.
Puigdemont is to take part in a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen later Monday.
His trip comes a day after Spain’s prosecution service said it would “immediately” have a supreme court judge issue a warrant for his arrest if he travels to Denmark, and urge Copenhagen to hand him over.
Puigdemont fled to Belgium in late October after Madrid sacked his cabinet over their breakaway attempt, but is eyeing a return to power after pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in regional elections in December.
Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena had dropped a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his deputies who fled to Belgium in early December, saying it would complicate the overall probe into the region’s leaders.
At home, however, he risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
On Monday, the speaker of the Catalan parliament is due to announce his candidacy to become the president of the region.
Puigdemont is the favorite but wants to govern the region from exile in order to avoid arrest if he returns to Spain.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated Saturday that governing Catalonia from abroad would be “illegal.”

Ex-Catalan leader says can govern region from Belgium

January 19, 2018


© AFP/File | Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says he has the legitimate mandate to rule after his Together for Catalonia list won the most votes within the separatist camp in the December elections

BARCELONA (AFP) – Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont, who was sacked by Madrid over his attempt to break from Spain, said Friday he can govern the region from Belgium as he eyes a comeback after scoring big in elections.”There are only two options: in prison I would not be able to address people, write, meet people,” Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium and risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds if he returns to Spain, told Catalunya Radio.

“The only way is to continue doing it freely and safely.”

“Nowadays big business and academic research projects are essentially managed using new technology,” he added.

“These aren’t the kind of normal conditions we would have liked, but it’s sadly much harder to do it (govern Catalonia) from the Spanish state, where we would be in prison.”

Puigdemont, who was sacked along with his cabinet on October 27 after the regional parliament declared independence, is the only candidate of Catalonia’s separatist block to lead the region.

He insists he has the legitimate mandate of the people to rule after his Together for Catalonia list won the most votes within the separatist camp in December elections.

But the central government in Madrid has warned it will take the matter to court and keep direct control over Catalonia if Puigdemont tries to govern from Belgium, where he and other ousted regional ministers fled after the October independence declaration.

Storm Eleanor forces swathes of Europe to hunker down

January 3, 2018


© AFP / by Joseph Schmid | Part of the scaffolding was torn off a building in Paris on Wednesday as winter storm Eleanor whipped across northern France


Winter storm Eleanor swept into France, Belgium and the Netherlands on Wednesday after tearing through England and Northern Ireland, cutting power to tens of thousands while forcing airports and train services to halt operations.

Heavy winds led the airports in Strasbourg and Basel-Mulhouse on France’s border with Germany and Switzerland to close after gusts of more than 110 kilometres per hour (70 mph) were recorded, France’s civil aviation authority told AFP, before they were reopened shortly after midday.

Nine people were reported injured in France — four critically — and another in the Netherlands after a tree fell on a person in the southern village of Heesch.

At Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, 60 percent of departures were delayed Wednesday morning, as were a third of arrivals, while a handful of flights had to be rerouted before the winds eased back a bit.

The winds were also wreaking havoc with train services in several French regions as officials issued severe weather warnings for 44 departments until early Thursday.

About 200,000 homes across northern France were without electricity, while “particularly intense” flooding was expected on the Atlantic coasts.

The Eiffel Tower, which attracts six million visitors a year, was closed until at least Wednesday afternoon, while worries about falling tree branches prompted Paris officials to close all city parks for the day.

– ‘Woken people up’ –

Eleanor barrelled into continental Europe after whipping across England, Northern Ireland and Ireland, with the Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, closed as a precautionary measure to protect London from swelling tides.

“We have seen some heavy showers push through across the south of the UK along with hail, loud thunder and lightning, which has woken people up,” said meteorologist Becky Mitchell.

Gusts of 160 kmh were recorded at Great Dun Fell in Westmorland, northwest England, while overturned vehicles and trees caused closures of major motorways.

In Ireland, power supply company ESB said electricity had been restored to 123,000 customers, while 27,000 remained without power.

Streets around the docks in Galway on the west coast were flooded after high tides breached the sea defences, prompting the deployment of about two dozen troops to support flood defence efforts.

– Flooding and flight delays –

Belgium was also put on “orange” alert, the third of four warning levels, with officials urging people to exercise caution when venturing out, in particular because of falling tree branches and other objects.

Although the winds eased toward midday, rescue workers in Brussels were kept busy with about 70 calls across the city, mainly after trees were knocked down, and several parks were closed.

In the Netherlands, 252 of about 1,200 flights were cancelled at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, a main European hub, as weather alerts were issued for several regions.

Several main roads and train lines were also closed as officials rushed to prepare flooding defences.

Flights were also disrupted at Frankfurt’s airport in Germany, where the storm has been baptised Burglind, and at Zurich airport, as Swiss officials urged hikers to avoid forest walks.

RTS television reported that about 14,000 homes were without power in several Swiss cantons.

Eleanor is the fourth major storm to hit Europe since December.

Eleanor is now heading for the French Alps, where several ski areas have shut down lifts, and Corsica, where meteorologists are warning of “violent” gusts that could reach 200 kilometres per hour on the island’s northern tip.

Austria is also in its path, where the avalanche risk was expected to be raised to four on a scale of five in several areas Wednesday afternoon.

by Joseph Schmid

Turkey’s Erdogan says he wants better relations with EU, Germany — After a Year of Bashing Europe

December 30, 2017

Turkey’s Erdogan has said there is “no problem” with the EU and Germany after a rough-and-tumble year. He also commended EU countries for their stance against the US decision on Jerusalem.

Angela Merkel and Recep Tayip Erdogan G20 Hamburg (Getty Images/M.Kappeler)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed hope for good relations with the European Union and Germany, after a year of tense relations between Berlin and Ankara.

“We certainly desire good relations with the EU and EU countries,” Erdogan told journalists aboard a flight back from a four-day trip to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia.

Ties between the Brussels and Ankara have steadily deteriorated over the past two years, with Turkey’s EU accession process all but halted over deteriorating human rights and rule of law.

Turkey and Germany careened from crisis to crisis in 2017 as relations hit rock bottom over a series of issues.

Read more: Germany and Turkey in 2017: a rollercoaster relationship

— EU refugee aid enters new phase in Turkey

“There is an expression that I always use. We need to reduce our enemies and increase our friends,” Erdogan said.

“We don’t have a problem with Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium. It’s exactly the opposite, the leaders of those countries are old friends of mine,” Erdogan said. “They did some wrong things to me, but that’s a different matter.”

Tensions between Berlin and Ankara have eased somewhat recently after the release from prison of a number of German nationals. But relations are still plagued by a war of words earlier this year and serious disputes, including the continued detention of Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel on trumped-up terrorism charges in Turkey.

Erdogan said that he may visit Germany, the Netherlands, France and the Vatican.

Focus shifts to Jerusalem

Erdogan said there were problems with the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, but “our last discussions have been quite good.”

“On the issue of Jerusalem, I wanted support from them; they are on the same page as we are,” Erdogan said, referring to opposition to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the contested holy city as the capital of Israel. He said he called German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently to thank him.

Erdogan likes to present himself as the Muslim world’s chief defender of Palestinian rights and has been leading the charge against the Trump administration’s Jerusalem decision.

He said that after an overwhelming UN General Assembly vote this month against the United States’ Jerusalem stance, he hoped to encourage a reversal of policy.

“Now some other necessary steps need to be taken. In this context, a Palestinian state should be recognized,” he said. “Some countries will recognize a Palestinian state; a number of EU states would immediately recognize Palestine.”


The New York Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, center, with President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia at Carthage Palace near Tunis this week.

Credit Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Throughout 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey seemed to go out of his way to thumb his nose at onetime friends and allies.

Early this year, he described the Dutch government as “Nazi remnants,”accused German politicians of “Nazi practices” and called the entire European continent “racist, fascist and cruel.”

Relations with the United States were not much better, as both countries tightened visa requirements in a crisis ignited by Turkey’s arrest of two of its citizens who worked for the State Department in Turkey.

With just days left before the end of the year, however, Mr. Erdogan appears to have had a change of heart.

On Thursday, his government announced an end to the visa dispute with the United States, with both the Turkish Embassy in Washington and the American Embassy in Ankara lifting visa restrictions.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Erdogan signaled a rapprochement with European leaders in an interview with Turkish reporters aboard a plane to Tunisia.

“I always say this: We are obliged to lessen the number of foes and increase the number of friends,” Mr. Erdogan said in comments reported by several Turkish news outlets and translated into English by Hurriyet Daily News, an English-language Turkish newspaper.

“We have no problems with Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium,” Mr. Erdogan said. “To the contrary, those who are in the governments of these countries are my old friends.”

He also said he hoped to visit Paris to meet with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and to travel to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis.

By now, the crosswinds of Mr. Erdogan’s public statements have sealed his reputation as a leader of changeable temperament who seems to shift Turkey’s policies along with his moods.

Analysts of Turkish politics were divided on the reasons behind the Turkish president’s about-face, but some took it as a sign of his desperation at ending the year ostracized internationally.

Traditionally, Turkey, a fulcrum between Europe and the Middle East, has tried to maintain good relations with its many neighbors.

Mr. Erdogan’s comments on Wednesday were the result of “diplomatic isolation, period,” said Marc Pierini, the European Union’s former ambassador to Ankara, and now a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, a think tank.

“Look at where the recent trips of the Turkish president have been,” Mr. Pierini added. “He’s gone to Greece, made a terrible commotion there for domestic purposes, burned another bridge; went to Poland, a semi-rogue state in the E.U.; then went to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia. This is diplomatic isolation.”

Read the rest:

Erdogan Seeks to Mend Turkey-Europe Ties: ‘They Oppose Trump’s Jerusalem Move Just Like Us’

December 28, 2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he wants to ‘decrease the number of enemies and increase friends,’ pointing to Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium

The Associated Press Dec 28, 2017 12:06 PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan near Tunis, Tunisia, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan near Tunis, Tunisia, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 Hassene Dridi/AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he wants to mend strained ties with several European nations, saying Turkey is forced to “decrease the number of enemies and increase friends.”

In comments published in Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday, Erdogan describes the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium as “old friends,” calls recent contacts with them “quite good” and notes that they, like Turkey, oppose a controversial U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We have no problems with Germany, or with the Netherlands or Belgium,” Erdogan told journalists on his return from a trip to Africa. “On the contrary, those in power there are my old friends. They have wronged me, but that’s another matter.”

Ties frayed after authorities in some European nations prevented Turkish government ministers from holding political rallies to court expat votes ahead of a referendum in Turkey earlier this year over giving Erdogan expanded powers. Erdogan aimed a series of insults at his allies accusing European officials of racism, harboring terrorists and behaving like “Nazis.”

European nations also have balked at the deteriorating state of human rights and democratic institutions in Turkey, especially in the wake of last year’s failed military coup. Erdogan’s government embarked on an unprecedented crackdown on opponents, arresting around 50,000 people and purging more than 110,000 public sector workers. A state of emergency declared after the coup attempt allows Erdogan to rule by decree, often bypassing parliament.

Several German or German-Turkish nationals, including a prominent journalist, have been jailed on terror-related charges as part of the crackdown, further damaging ties with Berlin.

Turkey blames the coup attempt on followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric has denied masterminding it.

Erdogan also said he hopes to visit France and the Vatican in the new year.

read more:



Reports that deported Sudanese were tortured spark tensions in Belgian government

December 23, 2017


© John Thys, AFP | Refugees and migrants at a park in Brussels pictured on August 22. The hundreds of migrants, most Sudanese or Eritrean, who sleep in the park hope eventually to get to the UK.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-12-23

Allegations that Sudanese refugees deported from Belgium were tortured upon their return has shaken Belgium’s governing coalition. Prime Minister Charles Michel has suspended deportations pending an “independent investigation” with the UN.

The Chamber of Representatives held an emergency meeting late on Friday to hear testimony from Belgium’s secretary of state for immigration, Flemish nationalist Theo Francken. Francken has borne the brunt of the criticism for collaborating with the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes and on charges of genocide.

Francken invited Sudanese officials to Brussels in September to help authorities identify Sudanese migrants and arrange for their forced repatriation. He wanted the delegation to review the cases of more than 100 migrants, many of whom were arrested camping in Brussels’ Maximilian Park on their way to Britain.

But human rights groups had warned that the Sudanese officials were likely to be security agents for Bashir’s oppressive regime who would deliberately misidentify genuine political refugees as illegal migrants. Belgium’s Human Rights League said the Sudanese were subject to arbitrary arrest and maltreatment and claimed the expulsions were in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. On Wednesday, a court of appeal in Liège threw out a lawsuit lodged by the group in a bid to stop the deportations.

The issue was thrust back into the spotlight after new testimonies compiled by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy surfaced this week, detailing the arrest and torture of several young refugees who were deported after the “identification mission”.

Minister Charles Michel, who heads a coalition of liberals, Christian Democrats and Flemish nationalists, suspended deportations of Sudanese refugees on Thursday pending an “independent investigation” in collaboration with the United Nations.

Michel initially suspended deportations until the end of January. Francken described the move as “absurd”, saying no new repatriations were scheduled before that deadline.

It was later revealed that at least one new expulsion was to take place within that timeframe, and Francken apologised in a tweet on Friday morning.

Migratie is een beladen dossier, en vaak emotioneel.
Ik werk graag en goed samen met de Premier. Dat zal zo blijven. Nu verder werken aan oplossingen.

But the opposition and majority party, the Flemish Christian Democrats, denounced Francken’s “lies” about new deportations. They also accused him of enflaming tensions with his criticisms of the prime minister.

The accusations led the home affairs committee to convene an emergency meeting in which Francken admitted to “withholding” information, according to the Belga news agency.

Representative Benoit Hellings tweeted that Francken had admitted to lying about the need for a moratorium on deportations because he feared such a move would act as a “siren call” to new refugees.

Karel De Gucht, Belgium’s minister of foreign affairs from 2004-2009, said that Francken “can no longer remain secretary of state for Migration; he is politically, ideologically and innately unfit for it”.

It’s not the first time that Francken has gotten into hot water. The flamboyant right-wing politician came under pressure to resign in 2014 after he was photographed at the birthday party of a convicted Nazi collaborator.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)