Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130

A picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows cars piled up by the water at a roundabout in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

 

 

Devastating floods have torn through entire villages and killed at least 128 people in Europe, most of them in western Germany where stunned emergency services were still combing the wreckage on Friday.

Unsuspecting residents were caught completely off guard by the torrent dubbed the “flood of death” by German newspaper Bild.

Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas, while cars were left overturned on soaked streets after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off.

“Everything was underwater within 15 minutes,” Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state, told AFP.

“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was underwater.”

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.
Christof STACHE / AFP

 

 

In nearby Schuld, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65, said “caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down”.

“We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it. It’s like a warzone,” he said.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rheinland-Palatinate, told Bild the death toll was likely to rise as emergency services continued to search the affected areas over the coming days.

“When emptying cellars or pumping out cellars, we keep coming across people who have lost their lives in these floods,” he said.

With five more dead found in the state by Friday evening, the nationwide death toll mounted to 108.

Adding to the devastation, several more people were feared dead in a landslide in the town of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) triggered by the floods.

In neighbouring Belgium, the government confirmed the death toll had jumped to 20 — earlier reports had said 23 dead — with more than 21,000 people left without electricity in one region.

Calling the floods “possibly the most catastrophic our country has ever seen,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

People stand in a devastated street in an area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Fearing the worst

In Germany’s hard-hit Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate, several houses collapsed completely, drawing comparisons to the aftermath of a tsunami.

At least 24 people were confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-affected towns.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said late Thursday from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.

“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing.”

In Ahrweiler, around 1,300 people were unaccounted for, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged phone networks.

Lewentz told local media that up to 60 people were believed to be missing, “and when you haven’t heard from people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst”.

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021 (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Billions in damage

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said the cost of the damage was likely to run into “billions of euros”.

In Belgium, the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.

The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, warned Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.

In Switzerland, lakes and rivers were also swelling after heavy overnight rainfall. In Lucerne in particular, Lake Lucerne had begun to flood the city centre.

Some parts of western Europe received up to two months’ worth of rainfall in two days on soil that was already near saturation, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But there was some improvement Friday as the water level began to fall back.

Aerial view taken on July 15, 2021 shows the flooded village of Schuld, near Adenau, western Germany. Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

Climate change?

The severe storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Speaking in Berlin, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would “only be able to curb extreme weather situations if we engage in a determined fight against climate change”.

The country “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

AFP

Belgian Toll Mounts To 24 As PM Visits Flood Zone

Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (L) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visit the town of Rochefort following heavy rains and floods on July 17, 2021. – The death toll from flooding in eastern Belgium hit 24 on July 17, 2021, as police went door-to-door seeking news of at risk residents and the prime minister toured devastated towns. Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander de Croo headed to the town of Rochefort in the basin of the river Meuse to see the aftermath of what he has branded an “unprecedented” flood. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

 

 

The death toll from flooding in eastern Belgium hit 24 on Saturday, as police went door-to-door seeking news of at-risk residents and the prime minister toured devastated towns.  

Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander de Croo headed to the town of Rochefort in the basin of the river Meuse to see the aftermath of what he has branded an “unprecedented” flood.

De Croo was to be joined by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in the river valleys of eastern Belgium near the border with her native Germany, also badly hit.

The latest official death toll on Saturday was 24, with many people still missing. Police in Angleur, in the city of Liege, said they had found at least one more body overnight.

Flood waters descended on densely inhabited valleys in the region around the Meuse river on Thursday, after days of intense rain.

By Saturday, the skies were clearing and the downpour had abated, but the retreating waters left scenes of devastation across 120 local government areas.

Police were going door to door, checking on residents, and De Croo has declared Tuesday — the eve of Belgium’s national day — a day of official mourning.

Italy Beat Belgium To Set Up Euro 2020 Semi-Final Against Spain

Italy players celebrate victory as Belgium players react at the end of the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Belgium and Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich on July 2, 2021. ANDREAS GEBERT / POOL / AFP
Italy players celebrate victory as Belgium players react at the end of the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Belgium and Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich on July 2, 2021.
ANDREAS GEBERT / POOL / AFP

 

Italy beat Belgium 2-1 in a pulsating Euro 2020 quarter-final in Munich on Friday to set up a last-four clash with Spain, who needed penalties to get the better of 10-man Switzerland.

Lorenzo Insigne’s brilliant strike proved to be the winner for Italy, who extended their national record unbeaten run to 32 matches.

Roberto Mancini’s men will face Spain in the first semi-final on Tuesday at Wembley.

“We deserved to win. The players were extraordinary,” Italy coach Mancini told Rai.

“It is clear that we suffered in the last 10 minutes because we were tired. They were good, we could have scored a few more goals.”

Belgium and Italy were the only sides to win all 10 games in qualifying and the only teams along with the Netherlands to win every match in the group stage.

The Azzurri, whose only European title came in 1968, started brightly and thought they had struck first when Leonardo Bonucci put the ball in the net, only for VAR to rule the goal out for offside.

Nicolo Barella did give Italy the lead in the 31st minute with a fine solo goal though, jinking between two defenders and hammering a shot into the far corner past Thibaut Courtois.

The Italians were in dreamland when Insigne curled home a wonderful long-range strike into the top corner shortly before half-time.

But Belgium gave themselves hope in first-half stoppage time through a Romelu Lukaku penalty after Jeremy Doku was shoved over in the box by Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

The Belgians had their moments in the second half, with Lukaku denied by some desperate last-ditch defending.

Doku fired over after a mazy run as the world’s top-ranked side piled on the pressure, but Italy held on to reach the semis for the sixth time.

Spain edge out valiant Swiss

Earlier on Friday, Spain, champions in 2008 and 2012, beat Switzerland 3-1 on penalties after their quarter-final tie in Saint Petersburg finished 1-1 at the end of extra time, with Mikel Oyarzabal scoring the winning kick.

Luis Enrique’s side appeared to be coasting as Jordi Alba’s shot deflected in off Denis Zakaria for an own goal to put Spain ahead in the eighth minute.

However, the Swiss had caused a sensation by eliminating world champions France in the last 16 and they battled back to equalise midway through the second half when a disastrous defensive mix-up between Spain centre-backs Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to score.

Switzerland then held on through extra time after midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off in the 77th minute for a challenge on Gerard Moreno.

They had converted all five of their penalties in the shoot-out against France and this time they were given a head-start when Sergio Busquets hit the post with Spain’s first effort.

Rodri also failed to score for Spain but Unai Simon saved from Fabian Schaer and Manuel Akanji before Ruben Vargas blazed over.

Virus concerns in Russia

Oyarzabal’s kick allowed Spain to go through and help banish the memory of their defeat on penalties in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup against the hosts in Russia.

“Unai (Simon), I’ve seen him stop a lot of penalties with Athletic Bilbao, and I see him training with us… he’s a specialist,” said Spain boss Luis Enrique.

Friday’s game went ahead in Saint Petersburg despite major concerns about a surge in coronavirus cases in the Russian city, fuelled by the Delta variant.

Earlier on Friday, Russia reported 679 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours, setting a pandemic high of fatalities for the fourth day in a row. Saint Petersburg recorded 101 deaths.

An attendance of almost 25,000 watched the game in the Krestovsky Stadium, which has welcomed some of the largest crowds permitted at this pandemic-affected European Championship.

The remaining quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, when England — fresh from beating Germany — play Ukraine in Rome.

England may not have many fans in the Stadio Olimpico due to Italian coronavirus rules which mean all arrivals from the United Kingdom have to quarantine for five days.

Denmark play the Czech Republic in Baku exactly three weeks on from Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in the Danes’ first match at the tournament.

Eriksen was discharged from hospital less than a week after his collapse after having a defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart rate, and without him Kasper Hjulmand’s team have rallied to reach the last eight.

“We will play with the heart of Christian Eriksen. He is the heart of the team still and with that heart and without fear, we will try,” said Hjulmand.

 

AFP

Three Dead, Two Missing Under Belgium School Collapse

Rescue workers inspect the rubble of a collapsed building, a day after a school construction site partially collapsed in the Belgian city of Antwerp on June 19, 2021. Three construction workers were confirmed dead and two still missing. PHOTO: NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA / AFP

 

Three construction workers were confirmed dead and two still missing on Saturday, a day after a school construction site partially collapsed in the Belgian city of Antwerp.

The city’s fire department tweeted that three bodies had been found under the rubble.

“Despite this terrible toll, the rescue work continues unabated until we are also able to free the two remaining missing persons,” it said.

Two of the dead were from Portugal and Romania, police told local media.

READ ALSO: Ultraconservative Cleric Ebrahim Raisi Wins Iran Presidential Vote

The nationality of the third dead worker was not clear. Rescuers had said when three people were still missing that they were looking for two more Portuguese and one Russian.

Nine others were injured in the incident on Friday afternoon. The school was still under construction so no students were present.

The cause of the collapse was not known.

King Philippe of Belgium was expected to visit the scene on Saturday.

AFP

Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

Belgium's forward Romelu Lukaku (R) kicks the ball and scores his team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Belgium and Russia at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 12, 2021. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP
Belgium’s forward Romelu Lukaku (R) kicks the ball and scores his team’s first goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Belgium and Russia at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 12, 2021. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP

 

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku sent a message of support to his stricken Inter Milan team-mate Christian Eriksen after scoring, as his double helped the Red Devils open their Euro 2020 campaign with a 3-0 win over Russia on Saturday.

Lukaku gave Belgium an early lead in Saint Petersburg, then shouted “Chris, Chris, stay strong — I love you” into a pitchside camera during the celebration for his opening goal.

His club team-mate Eriksen is recovering in hospital in Copenhagen after collapsing on the pitch during extraordinary scenes which overshadowed Denmark’s 1-0 home defeat by Finland in Saturday’s earlier Group B game.

Substitute Thomas Meunier doubled Belgium’s lead on 34 minutes before Lukaku put the result beyond doubt with a late second goal.

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, are under pressure to deliver at the European Championship as some pundits claim this is Roberto Martinez’s last chance to win a title with an ageing squad.

Yet even with Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel sidelined by injury, Belgium were too strong for Russia.

The hosts got off to a bad start when Andrei Semenov failed to deal with a cross by Dries Mertens in the build-up to the opening goal.

The ball fell to Lukaku, who span away and drove his shot into the bottom far corner on 10 minutes.

Belgium’s Timothy Castagne and Russia’s Daler Kuzyaev had to be helped off following a nasty clash of heads which saw both players substituted.

Meunier, Castagne’s replacement at right-back, grabbed Belgium’s second by slotting home the rebound after his Dortmund team-mate Thorgan Hazard swung in a cross which Anton Shunin failed to hold.

It stayed 2-0 at the break, but Russia raised the tempo in the second half as Roman Zobnin fired over the Belgian goal.

Real Madrid star Eden Hazard replaced Mertens for the final 18 minutes to lift the Belgian attack.

With two minutes left, Lukaku swept Meunier’s pass into the Russian net to claim his 20th goal in his last 15 international games.

Before kick-off, the Belgium team were booed for taking a knee to highlight racial injustice, while their Russian opponents stood.

Jeers echoed around the Krestovsky Stadium as the entire Belgian team, as well as Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, knelt, while Lukaku, whose parents come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, raised his right fist.

England have said they will do the same for their opening game of the European Championship against Croatia on Sunday.

Ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling to protest against racial injustice in 2016.

The gesture has become a familiar sight across a range of sports since George Floyd, who was black, was killed by a white police officer in the United States last year.

 

AFP

Belgium Rescues 49 Migrants ‘In Distress’ Off Coast

Belgium’s map

 

Belgian authorities on Wednesday rescued 49 mainly Vietnamese migrants who were attempting a sea crossing to Britain, apparently from France, the Bruges prosecutor’s office said.

“They were in good health but some had mild symptoms of hypothermia,” the statement said, explaining that the boat had taken on water and was “in distress” when it was spotted.

A helicopter was launched to track the boat while rescuers headed to the scene and the migrants were taken ashore and transferred to the maritime police in Zeebrugge.

Police will launch an investigation “into the smuggling organisation responsible for these events.”

“Based on initial findings, it is suspected that the boat departed from the French coast, but the investigation will have to confirm this,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Vietnamese migrants are among those camped out at Grande-Synthe on the northern French coast, trying to find a way to cross to Britain.

Around 100 Vietnamese were taken out to the camp to be rehoused in shelters on May 6, according to the Grande-Synthe town hall.

The migrants are brought to the Channel coast from their southeast Asian homeland by a network that flies them to Moscow and then transports them through Europe.

Yann Manzi from the NGO Utopia, which helps migrants, says that until recently the Vietnamese kept themselves apart from other migrant populations.

But they are now increasingly mixed up with the other African and Asian travellers waiting for a place on a boat or a chance to jump in the back of a truck.

The last leg of the trip, across the sea to southern England on a dinghy or in a truck carried by a ferry or the Channel tunnel can be the most dangerous.

In October 2019, the lifeless bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants were discovered suffocated in a trailer in Grays Industrial Estate, east London.

The investigation established that the migrants had been picked up in northern France and had transited through the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

Investigations were launched in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, where a trial was held in 2020 resulting in the conviction of two key figures in the trafficking.

AFP

Court Gives Belgium 30 Days To Fix Lockdown Law

Logo of a court gavel

 

 

A Belgian court on Wednesday ordered the government to draw up a pandemic law within 30 days or face the annulment of some of its anti-Covid restrictions.

The Brussels court of the first instance made the order after a complaint by the Belgian League of Human Rights.

The Belgian government appealed the decision and insisted that several other jurisdictions had greenlit the measures, a statement said.

The legal tussle matches similar battles in the Netherlands and Germany, where anger against anti-virus restrictions has also landed in courtrooms.

“The aim of our action is to put the parliamentary debate back at the centre,” Audrey Lackner, the lawyer for the League, told AFP.

“The court has confirmed the illegality of the measures and asked the Belgian state to do what is necessary to make them legal,” she added.

In Belgium, the lockdowns and restrictions to fight the spread of the coronavirus have all been ordered by ministerial decree, bypassing parliament.

The government has also been criticised by the European Commission for border controls that limit free movement between Belgium and fellow EU member states.

This state of affairs has annoyed civil libertarians and ministers have begun efforts to draw up an appropriate law for future pandemics that would involve lawmakers more closely in the process.

This, however, was expected to take much longer than the 30 days ordered by the court, putting the government of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in difficulty.

Contacted by AFP, De Croo’s office said the court ruling was being analysed.

Lackner said that besides the new law, the court found the government could scrap the measures or draw up a new ministerial decree that is more legally sound.

Belgium is in the midst of a fight against the third wave of the pandemic, with schools shut, borders closed and appointments required to access non-essential shops

Belgium Tightens Restrictions To Beat Third Virus Wave

File photo used to illustrate the story: Nurses push a patient on a stretcher into the ‘Clinique CHC MontLegia’ building, part of the relocation of the ‘Clinique Saint-Joseph’ hospital in Liege as the country battles against the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO: BRUNO FAHY /AFP

 

Belgium announced on Wednesday a renewed partial lockdown of four weeks, with schools closed and non-essential stores open to customers by appointment only.

The decision came as a potential third wave of the coronavirus was gaining momentum in the EU country of 11.5 million, with hospitalisations on the rise.

The pandemic “is a big lesson in humility for politicians, for everyone,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in announcing the measures.

The measures will begin on Saturday and the intention remains to fully reopen the schools and ease the restrictions on April 19.

READ ALSO: Croatia PM Receives AstraZeneca Jab To Dismiss Fears

Businesses with close contact with customers — mainly hairdressers, tattoo parlours, and beauty shops — will be shut at least until that date.

In the new rules, the “outside bubble”, the maximum number of people with which you are allowed to be in public, will be reduced from 10 to four.

The school closure will begin a week ahead of a two-week Easter holiday, with the government trying to limit the impact on parents.

With Belgium already subject to a night curfew, a work-from-home edict and a general travel ban into and out of the country, the blame was put on the spread of the UK variant of the virus, which is more contagious and can have more severe effects.

AFP

Violence Breaks Out In ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest Held In Belgium

Belgian anti-riot police officers patrol in the streets of Liege, eastern Belgium, on March 13, 2021 as clashes erupted on the sidelines of a Black Lives Matter demonstration. JOHN THYS / AFP
Belgian anti-riot police officers patrol in the streets of Liege, eastern Belgium, on March 13, 2021 as clashes erupted on the sidelines of a Black Lives Matter demonstration. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

Several police officers were wounded when violence and looting broke out on the sidelines of a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the eastern Belgian city of Liege on Saturday, police said.

The march was held to protest against the arrest of a woman for “rebellion” in the city on Monday who has since accused the police of racism, a police spokeswoman said.

The police have rejected that charge, claiming that the woman had resisted arrest.

The spokeswoman said that on Saturday “young people joined the group of peaceful protesters and then left the demonstration to go and wreck the city centre”.

They “threw stones at the central police station and police vehicles,” she told AFP.

An officer on a motorcycle who was knocked to the ground and assaulted has been hospitalised, while several other officers were also wounded, she added.

“We are dealing with two hundred young people, ‘casseurs’, who move very quickly, in groups, and loot stores.”

“Casseurs” is a French term which translates as “breakers” and describes black-clad protesters who infiltrate protests to smash property and provoke clashes with police.

“They ransacked a whole McDonald’s,” said the spokeswoman in the city in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region.

Police reinforcements were being deployed to deal with the trouble and by late Saturday the city centre calm had been restored.

The police urged citizens not to go to the city centre, and the mayor had told shops in the affected area to close.

 

AFP

EU Tells Five Countries To Codify Anti-Racism Law

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Commission on Thursday told five EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and Sweden — to quickly put a 2008 EU law against racism into their statutes.

The five need to “fully transpose” into national law the EU rules that criminalise “serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia”, the commission said in a statement, explaining it had sent formal letters to the respective capitals.

The EU executive already, in October last year, sent similar letters on the same matter to Estonia and Romania.

The commission noted that legislation in Belgium and Bulgaria did not identify racist or xenophobic motives as an aggravating element in crimes, and Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden failed to adequately criminalise certain hate speech, including the trivialisation of the Holocaust.

It also deemed that Finland had failed to allow racist crimes to be investigated even without a complaint by a victim.

READ ALSO: EU Calls For Regular COVID-19 Tests On Mink Farms

It singled out Poland for not specifying “gross trivialisation” of international crimes and the Holocaust, and restricting the criminalisation of denial “only to cases where such crimes were committed against Polish citizens”.

The five countries have two months to respond to the letters. If they do not, the commission can start a procedure that could see them taken to the European Court of Justice.

Iran Diplomat Bags 20 Year Sentence For Paris Bomb Plot

A heavily armed policeman stands outside the courthouse during the trial of four persons, including an Iranian diplomate and Belgian-Iranian couple, before the Antwerp criminal court in Antwerp, on February 4, 2021. 
DIRK WAEM / BELGA / AFP

 

A Belgian court convicted an Iranian diplomat Thursday for plotting a thwarted 2018 bombing of an opposition rally outside Paris and ordered him jailed for 20 years.

The trial was conducted under tight security in the Belgian port of Antwerp and has further poisoned already tense relations between Tehran and European capitals.

The terrorism conviction was also claimed as a victory by the exiled National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the opposition group that was targeted for attack.

Assadollah Assadi, now 49, was attached to the Iranian mission in Austria when he supplied explosives for an attack that was planned for a June 30, 2018, NCRI rally in France.

Belgian officers foiled the attack when they intercepted a car carrying the device, and Assadi was arrested the next day in Germany, where he was deemed unable to claim diplomatic immunity.

Three of his accomplices, dual Iranian-Belgians, were also arrested and on Thursday were given jail terms of between 15 and 18 years and stripped of their Belgian citizenship.

The 2018 gathering in Villepinte, near Paris, included senior NCRI leaders and some high-profile supporters, including former US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The case has shone a light on Tehran’s international operations just as it hopes the arrival of new US President Joe Biden will herald a loosening of sanctions re-imposed by Trump.

– Dressed as a tourist –

Assadi was charged with “attempted murders of a terrorist nature” and “taking part in the activity of a terrorist group”.

Iran had warned even before the conviction that it would not recognize the trial or the verdict, denying any official role in the plot and insisting Assadi ought to have enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

But investigators concluded that he was an Iranian agent working under diplomatic cover.

They showed the court surveillance pictures of Assadi dressed as a tourist, in a hat and with a camera, handing the Belgian-Iranian couple a package in Luxembourg on June 28, 2018.

The couple — Nasimeh Naami, 36, and Amir Saadouni, 40 —  were found to have accepted from Assadi a half-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.

Naami, painted in court as highly manipulative, received an 18-year sentence and Saadouni 15 years.

Belgium-based Iranian former dissident Mehrdad Arefani was found to have been an accomplice of Assadi’s who had been due to guide the couple at the rally.

He was the only defendant to agree to appear in court for the sentencing and sat impassively as he was jailed for 17 years.

Belgian officers halted the couple’s car with the bomb on board on the day of the event, preventing what the NCRI’s lawyers said would have been a “bloodbath”.

Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic Republic has furiously denied.

– Iran’s regime ‘on trial’ –

The case stirred tensions between European powers and Tehran and was seized upon by NCRI supporters to press their case against the Iranian regime.

The group’s leader Maryam Rajavi tweeted that the convictions dealt “a heavy political and diplomatic blow to the regime in Iran”.

A Belgian lawyer acting for the group at the trial, Georges-Henri Beauthier, told reporters that the court had recognised the role of the Iranian intelligence services in arming and funding the plotters.

The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), known in English as the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI).

The MEK backed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution that ousted shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but rapidly fell out with the new authorities.

The group sided with Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and thousands of its alleged members were executed in a ruthless crackdown in Iran.

It now wages a campaign against the Islamic Republic in exile and regards itself as the most significant opposition group outside the country.

For detractors and many Iranians who do not support Tehran’s government, the MEK is a cult-like group that the West once classed as a terrorist organisation.

It is banned in Iran but enjoys the support of several high-profile former US and European officials and a network of Iranian exiles opposed to the regime.

-AFP

Belgium To Ban Non-Essential Foreign Trips From Wednesday

Belgium’s map

 

Belgium will ban non-essential trips out of the country from Wednesday in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections, especially highly contagious variants, a government official said.

The official spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity ahead of a media conference by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who was to present details of the ban.