Britain And EU Strike Brexit Deal Ahead Of Summit

An official hangs a Union Jack next to an European Union flag at EU Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019, ahead of a European Union Summit on Brexit. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

Britain and the European Union reached a last-ditch Brexit deal on Thursday, just hours before an EU summit that is expected to give it a seal of approval.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson will still have to take the accord to a sceptical British parliament for its backing on Saturday, and it is far from certain that it will pass.

Johnson, who has pledged to take Britain out of the EU with or without an agreement, tweeted: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday.”

EU officials are pleased they avoided an immediate crisis at the European Council summit, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recommended that the other 27 EU leaders endorse the deal.

READ ALSO: N. Ireland’s DUP Says Opposition To Brexit Deal Remains

“Where there is a will, there is a deal — we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions,” Juncker tweeted.

The draft agreement was forged just weeks before Britain was due to leave the bloc on October 31, ending more than four decades of close economic and political ties with its nearest neighbours.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “We have managed to find solutions that fully respect the integrity of the single market.

“We created a new and legally operative solution to avoid a hard border, and protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” he said.

“It is a solution that works for the EU, for the UK and for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.”

One immediate hurdle is opposition from Johnson’s allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which pre-emptively rejected the compromise.

The agreement would see the British-ruled province remain under EU customs and Value Added Tax (VAT) rules, and the loyalist DUP announced that it can not support it.

It is not clear how many of Johnson’s Conservative MPs will back the deal, and if the British opposition could vote it down or attempt to force a nationwide referendum to approve or reject it.

Before setting off for Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted approvingly that London had been ready to negotiate and put “concrete proposals on the table”.

Economic disruption

Under the measures to replace the so-called “Irish backstop” in the previous failed agreement, the plan would see Northern Ireland remain British legal territory but trade under EU regulations.

This is intended to prevent the return of a hard border with EU-member Ireland. But, because it would involve some customs and tax checks with the rest of the UK, it raised the hackles of the DUP.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier was to give a news conference to outline more details of the deal.

But one EU source told AFP the agreement “is politically fragile in London” because of Johnson’s reliance on votes from the DUP and Conservative eurosceptics.

The leaders also hope the summit will rise above the Brexit mire and focus on the EU budget debate, bids by North Macedonia and Albania to start talks to join the bloc, and the crisis in relations with Turkey.

The Brexit issue is first on the agenda, with the EU’s 27 other leaders to hear Johnson speak then retire to mull their response. But the issue could be delayed to Friday if the deal text needs more work.

Counter-Terror Police Arrest Man Suspected Of Plotting Attack On US Embassy

The US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.

 

Belgian counter-terror police have arrested a man suspected of plotting an attack against the US embassy in Brussels, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The police on Saturday arrested the man following “converging signs raising fears of an attack against the US embassy,” the prosecutor’s office said.

“The suspect has been detained for an alleged attempted attack within a terrorist context and preparation of a terrorist offence,” it said in a statement.

The man identified only as M.G. appeared Monday morning before an investigating judge who ordered him held, it added.

The suspect denies any involvement in the alleged plot.

A source close to the investigation told AFP the suspect is a Belgian man around 40 years old and a convert to Islam who had “raised suspicion because of his behaviour”.

READ ALSO: Iran Rejects Dialogue With US After Fresh Sanctions

He had been seen “scouting” the embassy area before he was arrested, the source added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source declined to say whether the suspect fit the profile of a jihadist.

A spokesman for the US embassy said, “We have no comment at this time.”

Jihadists have staged a number of attacks in Brussels, which hosts the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

The worst was on March 22, 2016, when suicide bombers killed 32 people and wounded hundreds of others at Brussels airport and a metro station near EU buildings.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the twin attacks.

Previous attacks in Belgium

Since 2016, several other attacks, some of them also claimed by IS, have targeted Belgian police or soldiers.

The last “terrorist attack” occurred in the eastern city of Liege on May 29 last year when Benjamin Herman shot dead two women police officers and a student.

He shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) before being shot dead by the police.

Since the end of January 2018, the terror alert level in Belgium has been set at two, which means an attack is considered unlikely, the same as it was before January 2015.

A level three alert — indicating an attack is possible and likely — was set later in January 2015 after police smashed a jihadist cell in the eastern city of Verviers.

That Belgian police raid occurred a week after attacks against the Charlie Hebdo magazine and Jewish supermarket in Paris.

The level four alert — which means a serious and imminent threat of attack — has been put in place twice but for limited duration.

It was imposed for the first time for a week in the wake of the November 13, 2015, attacks in Paris which claimed the lives of 130 people and wounded hundreds of others.

It was then raised from three to four in the days after the March 2016 attacks.

Police say they believe the same cell was behind both the French and Belgium attacks.

AFP

Bomb Scare In Brussels EU Quarter

Security personels cordon the area during a bomb threat around the European institutions in Brussels on March 19, 2019.
EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Part of the European quarter in Brussels was evacuated on Tuesday, just two days before a European summit following a bomb threat to a lobbying firm.

The call was received by GPLUS, a public affairs and strategic communications consulting firm located across from the offices of Agence-France Presse (AFP).

The office is also a few dozen metres from the UK permanent representation where staff, hard at work on Brexit, were ordered to remain indoors.

READ ALSO: Letter Evidence Points To ‘Terror’ In Dutch Tram Attack – Authorities

“I evacuated the offices and notified the police,” GPLUS executive Thomas Barros-Tastets told AFP.

The alert was lifted shortly after 1:00 pm (1200 GMT), two hours after the intervention began.

Belgian police and the fire brigade mobilised significant resources, including a team to evacuate potential victims as quickly as possible.

The perimeter was sealed off, building residents confined and police sniffer dogs inspected vehicles parked in the area.

AFP

Brussels Loses Euro 2020 Matches To Wembley – UEFA

UEFA-Euro-2020-Logo-London

Wembley Stadium in London will host four Euro 2020 matches originally set to be staged in Brussels, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said on Thursday.

The European football governing body’s executive committee decided “unanimously” to strip Brussels of its four matches due to the inability of Belgian organisers to guarantee the new stadium to the north of the capital where they would have been held could be built in time.

Wembley will now host seven matches, including the two semi-finals and the final on July 12, 2020.

AFP

Hundreds Rally For Catalan Independence In Brussels

Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration by pro-Catalan independence supporters calling for the release of jailed separatist leaders on November 12, 2017, in Brussels.  EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

Several hundred people rallied in Brussels on Sunday to back the independence push in Catalonia, slam the EU and demand Spain release jailed regional officials.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium, was a no-show at the demonstration that included pro-independence European Parliament members and several members of the exiled regional government.

“Democracy in Spain is not only sick, it is practically dead,” Spanish MEP Josep-Maria Terricabras, who backs Catalan independence, told the demonstrators.

“I think that it is absolutely terrible that the European institutions don’t understand that when you attack democracy you cannot applaud (Spanish Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy and institutions in Spain that are outside the law,” he added.

The protest, just metres from the European Union’s main institutions, came a day after hundreds of thousands of Catalans protested the jailing of regional officials for their push for independence from Spain.

In Brussels, protesters held photos of the jailed officials, as well as signs saying “Shame on you” for the EU’s failure to lend support to Catalonia.

Flags from Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders were also prevalent at the protest, with sympathy deep for the Catalonian cause among Flemish nationalists.

The EU was “founded to not see the return dictatorship and fascism in Europe,” said the ousted Catalan Minister of Health Antoni Comin.

As Comin spoke, the crowd interrupted with chants of “Libertad (freedom)” and “All not here” in reference to the jailed regional officials in Spain.

Comin is one of five officials who fled to Belgium after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region following the declaration of independence by the parliament there last month.

Belgian judges are reviewing a European arrest warrant filed by Spain on charges of sedition and rebellion against the five Catalans.

Read Also: Spain PM Rajoy Calls On Companies Not To Leave Catalonia  

AFP

‘Catalonia’s Leader, Puigdemont In Brussels’

FILE PHOTO: Catalan president Carles Puigdemont leaves the hemicycle after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence from Spain on October 27, 2017 in Barcelona. LLUIS GENE / AFP

Catalonia’s dismissed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont was in Brussels on Monday, a Spanish government source said, as prosecutors called for him to be charged with rebellion over his drive for Catalan independence.

The news came as Madrid took political control of Catalonia after declaring that Puigdemont and his separatist regional administration were dismissed on Friday, following the Catalan parliament’s independence declaration.

On Sunday Belgium’s immigration minister suggested Puigdemont could receive asylum in Belgium on the grounds that he might not get a fair trial in Spain.

On Monday the Spanish government source told AFP that Puigdemont “is in Brussels”.

Catalan daily La Vanguardia reported that he was accompanied by others from his former administration.

Puigdemont, 54, said the result of an outlawed independence referendum on October 1 gave the region a mandate to declare independence.

Madrid and the Spanish courts said the referendum was illegal and that a unilateral independence declaration would violate the constitution.

Belgian immigration minister Theo Francken, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, said Sunday it was “not unrealistic” that Belgium could offer protection to Puigdemont.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said an asylum request from Puigdemont was “absolutely not on the agenda”.

The European Union has backed the Spanish government in the Catalan independence dispute.

AFP

‘Terrorist’ Attacker In Brussels Shot Dead

Policemen stand guard the Boulevard Emile Jacqmain in the city centre of Brussels on August 25, 2017, where a man is alleged to have attacked soldiers with a knife and was shot. Aurore Belot / AFP

A knifeman who attacked two soldiers in Brussels on Friday has been shot dead, federal prosecutors told AFP.

“We believe that it is a terrorist attack,” said a prosecutors’ office spokeswoman, who added the attacker “is dead.”

The assailant “yelled twice ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greatest) while attacking the soldiers” in the Belgian capital, she said. Soldiers then opened fire on the man.

One of the two soldiers targeted was “slightly” wounded, according to federal prosecutors, who have opened a terror probe.

The attack took place around 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on a street in central Brussels.

AFP

EU Leaders Meet In Brussels Over Migration Feud

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels will try to gloss over their feud about who takes in refugees, a change of tactic that some diplomats have linked to Germany’s election in September.

Eastern states such as Poland and Hungary have refused to take in asylum-seekers to ease the burden on Greece and Italy, where most of the 1.7 million refugees and migrants entering the EU since 2014 have landed by boat after fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Their reluctance to host a share of the arrivals has also angered wealthier countries such as Germany and Sweden, the preferred final destination for many of the migrants.

Despite political pressure, Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava have been vehement and the issue has opened deep divisions in the EU at a time it needs unity to face Britain’s exit from the bloc.

“Germany has been pushing for relocation (of asylum-seekers) for a long time. Now they have said we’d better focus on where we can agree and come back to this in October,” a senior EU diplomat said.

“October comes after September,” the person said, stressing the link to the election in which conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel faces off against the social democrat Martin Schulz.

Merkel has come under fire for allowing more than one million refugees to enter Germany over the past two years.

Diplomats said the change of tactics by Germany, which hosts the highest number of refugees, came with a realisation that no political points can be won now on the intractable dispute.

“The change of strategy is justified. We have to make progress in areas like the return of migrants and common standards in the asylum system,” a German EU diplomat said.

“Those achievements will give us the momentum to tackle the more disputed topics.”

Trump arrives European Council ahead of NATO summit

U.S. President Donald Trump was met by European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on Thursday as he arrived for a meeting with the heads of the European Union institutions.

Trump will later attend a summit of NATO leaders at the military alliance’s headquarters in the city.

The U.S. president, who is on the fourth leg of his first foreign trip since taking office, was greeted by Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who chairs meetings of the 28 EU leaders.

Also joining the talks will be the bloc’s chief executive, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Trump, who voiced skepticism while campaigning about the EU’s value and hailed Britain’s Brexit vote to quit the bloc, will hear a call from European leaders for him to maintain Washington’s longstanding support for integration on the continent, as well to support free trade and efforts to combat climate change.

Belgium Sacks Coach Marc Wilmots

Belgium, Marc wilmotsBelgian Football Federation has relieved Marc Wilmots from his job as the Head Coach of the National Team.

This is according to a statement by the Federation’s website.

“The Royal Belgian Football Association have made an agreement with Marc Wilmots to end his contract that lasted until 2018.

“We would like to thank Marc Wilmots for his work during the last four years.

“With Marc Wilmots as a head coach, the Red Devils have climbed from the 54th position to the top of the FIFA World Ranking.

He managed to win 34 games out of 51, including eight draws. Above all, the fans have reinstalled their love for the Belgian Red Devils during this period.

“The RBFA’s Technical Commission have made an evaluation of the recent UEFA Euro 2016 and have declared that the intended goals have not been reached.

“There is a common sense that the team needs a new impulse to lead this group towards a top result at a major tournament.

“The Belgian FA will immediately start the procedure to find a new head coach, in a transparent way. The idea is to start the upcoming games in September with a new coach, beginning with an international friendly game in Brussels against Spain on the 1st of September.”

Wilmots, 47, had been leading the national team since 2012 and managed to guide the team to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Turkey Says Brussels Attacker Deported In 2015, Belgium Ignored Warning

belgum attackersOne of the attackers in the Brussels suicide bombings was deported last year from Turkey, and Belgium subsequently ignored a warning that the man was a militant, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Erdogan’s office identified the man as Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the two brothers named by Belgium as responsible for the attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday and were claimed by the Islamic State group.

In previous cases, officials have said that without evidence of crime, such as having fought in Syria, they cannot jail people deported from Turkey. Among such cases was Brahim Abdeslam, one of the suicide bombers in Paris in November, who was also sent back to Belgium from Turkey early last year.

Erdogan told a news conference that Bakraoui was detained in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep near the Syrian border and was later deported to the Netherlands. Turkey also notified Dutch authorities, Erdogan said.

A Dutch government official said Erdogan’s comments were “being carefully looked into,” but that they could not yet say if El Bakraoui had been in the Netherlands.

“One of the attackers in Brussels is an individual we detained in Gaziantep in June 2015 and deported. We reported the deportation to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara on July 14, 2015, but he was later set free,” Erdogan said.

“Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter.”

Erdogan’s office confirmed that Bakraoui was deported to the Netherlands. It said he was later released by Belgian authorities as “no links with terrorism” were found. It was not clear when Bakraoui was handed over to Belgian authorities.

Erdogan initially said Bakraoui was deported in June. His office later said he was detained in June and deported in July.

Belgian newspaper Le Soir quoted Justice Minister Koen Geens as confirming Bakraoui was deported to the Netherlands. Geens’ spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

The attacks in Brussels came just days after a suspected Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up in Istanbul’s most popular shopping district, killing three Israelis and an Iranian and wounding dozens.

Belgium Identifies Brussels Bomb Suspect, Suicide Bombers: Media

busserelsBelgian police have identified a prime suspect in Tuesday’s Brussels blasts and two suspected suicide bombers, linking them directly to Islamic State. militants behind last November’s Paris attacks, Belgian media reported on Wednesday.

Najim Laachraoui, 25, is believed to be the man seen on CCTV pushing a baggage trolley alongside the bombers and then running out of the Brussels airport terminal.

Earlier some media reported that he had been captured in the Brussels borough of Anderlecht, but they later said the person detained was not Laachraoui.

Police and prosecutors refused immediate comment but the federal prosecutor was due to hold a news conference at 1200 GMT.

The death toll in the attacks on the Belgian capital, home to the European Union and NATO, rose to at least 31 with some 260 wounded, Health Minister Maggie De Block said on VRT television. It could rise further because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces and victims are hard to identify.

One of the suspects seen on CCTV pushing baggage trolleys at Brussels airport just before the explosions was identified as Brahim El Bakraoui, public broadcaster RTBF reported. It said his brother, Khalid, blew himself up on the metro train.

Both had criminal records for armed robbery but had not previously been linked by investigators to Islamist militants.

Laachraoui is wanted in connection with the Paris attacks. His DNA was found on at least two explosives belts used in those attacks and at a Brussels hideout used last week by prime Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last Friday after a shoot-out with police.

RTBF said Khalid El Bakraoui had rented under a false name the apartment in the city’s Forest borough, where police hunting Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week. He is also believed to have rented a safe house in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used to mount last November’s Paris attacks.

The Syrian-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, four days after Abdeslam’s arrest in Brussels, warning of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a center of Islamist militancy.