EU Approves Sanctions Over China, Myanmar Abuses

A resident, who was shot during a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations by protesters against the military coup, is carried to safety in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township on March 14, 2021. PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday approved sanctions over abuses in China, Myanmar, and Russia, as the bloc expands measures targeting global rights breaches.

The 27 nations are due to place four Chinese officials and one state-run entity on a blacklist over Beijing’s crackdown on the Uighur minority after ambassadors gave the go-ahead last week.

The highly symbolic move — reported by EU diplomats and expected to be formally unveiled in the EU’s official journal later Monday — is the first time Brussels has hit Beijing over human rights abuses since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 after Tiananmen Square.

READ ALSO: Thousands Evacuated In Australia As ‘Scary’ Flooding Escalates

China’s foreign ministry has warned that Beijing will “react with a firm hand” against any punishment over its actions in the western Xinjiang region.

The measures are part of a package of human rights sanctions targeting a dozen people that also includes individuals in Russia, North Korea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya, diplomats said.

“This is a very important step which shows how committed we are,” Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said.

The mechanism — designed to make it easier for the bloc to target rights abusers — was launched this month with sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Diplomats said the fresh sanctions on Russia will target individuals behind abuses in the country’s Chechnya region, which is ruled with an iron-fist by Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov.

The EU will also slap asset freezes and visa bans on 11 officials of Myanmar’s junta over the military coup last month and crackdown on demonstrators.

“What we see there in terms of excesses of violence is absolutely unacceptable,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

“That is why we will not be able to avoid imposing sanctions.”

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering a mass uprising that security forces have sought to crush with a campaign of violence and fear.

Diplomats have said businesses tied to the military will likely be placed under sanctions in the coming weeks.

 

– Turkey ties –

Turkey will feature prominently at the meeting as member states debate efforts to improve ties after a spike in tensions last year over the eastern Mediterranean.

Brussels has welcomed steps by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reduce tensions by restarting talks with Greece over their disputed maritime border.

But there remain major concerns, including over domestic freedoms after moves to ban a key opposition party and Erdogan’s decision to leave a global treaty to prevent violence against women.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has drawn up a report outlining the bloc’s options to be discussed by leaders at a video conference this week.

Warming ties have seen efforts to impose sanctions agreed on in December over Turkish drilling off Cyprus put on the back burner for fear of derailing the rapprochement.

“There are different signals from Turkey,” Maas said.

“We will continue to try to remain in dialogue, but also to use this dialogue to address the issues where we believe that Turkey is sending out the wrong signals.”

AFP

Brussels Wants EU Deficit Rules Suspended Until 2023

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

Limits on public overspending by EU governments should remain suspended until the end of 2022 as the coronavirus pandemic is still choking the economy, the European Commission recommended on Wednesday.

The EU executive suspended the rules a year ago as the European Union sank into its deepest recession since World War II.

This has allowed countries to open the money taps to rescue their economies and help companies survive the pandemic.

EU Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said that, based on current projections, the reprieve should “remain active in 2022 and be deactivated in 2023” when Europe’s economy should have returned to pre-crisis health.

The idea will have to be approved by the EU member states and the commission could face hard questions from the so-called Frugals — richer members such as the Netherlands and Denmark — that are wary of allowing big spending to continue longer than necessary.

Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s commissioner for the economy, argued that the pandemic was still inflicting pain on Europe’s economy and that “for 2022, it is clear that fiscal support will still be necessary.”

“Better to err towards doing too much rather than too little,” Gentiloni, a former Italian prime minister, added.

Known as the Stability and Growth Pact, the rules limit deficit spending at three percent of the overall economy and debt at 60 percent.

The rules are often violated and countries risk penalties for ignoring them, though no government has ever been sanctioned.

The debt limit is especially overshot by several countries, with Italian debt, for example, soaring to a staggering 155.6 percent of the economy.

Instead, the pact mainly empowers the EU executive and fellow member states to keep a careful eye on how national governments run their budgets.

The commission, with the backing of the member states, also signals to national governments what reforms need to be carried out in order to get a thumbs up from the EU.

AFP

Officials Say Belgium Coronavirus Deaths Top 20,000

Resident Maria Scherlippens, 99, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine during the vaccination of residents of the Quietude retirement home in Montigny-le-Tilleul, near Charleroi, on January 7, 2021. VIRGINIE LEFOUR / BELGA / AFP

 

The number of fatalities in Belgium from the new coronavirus crossed 20,000 on Sunday, health officials said, with more than half the deaths from retirement care homes.

The country, with a population of 11.5 million, has recorded 662,694 cases and 20,038 deaths since the pandemic broke out, the Sciensano public health institute said.

Belgium counts all deaths of people who have had a positive Covid-19 test among virus fatalities, giving it one of the world’s highest death rates with 1,725 per 100,000 people, according to an AFP tally.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Belgium also included people who died and may have had the virus but did not necessarily have a test.

READ ALSO: China Seals Off Two Cities To Control COVID-19 Outbreak

Covid-19 vaccinations began in Belgium on January 5.

Virus deaths in retirement homes reached 10,270 on December 18, the authorities said. Amnesty International had the previous month alleged the authorities had “abandoned” care homes.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Sciensano reported more than 250 deaths a day with a peak of 322 on April 8.

The figures improved during summer but began rising again in October with 218 daily deaths recorded on November 10. The average number of deaths reported last week was 58 a day with about 1,780 infections.

More than 1.9 million people worldwide have now died from the virus, with new variants adding to soaring cases and prompting the re-introduction of restrictions on movement across the globe.

 

UK PM Johnson Heads To Brussels In Bid To Salvage Brexit Deal

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) leaves 10 Downing Street in London on December 8, 2020 to attend the weekly cabinet meeting held at the nearby Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Britain on Tuesday hailed a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as it begins the biggest vaccination programme in the country’s history with a new Covid-19 jab.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson headed to Brussels on Wednesday, with hopes for a post-Brexit trade deal hanging on crisis talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Johnson’s dash back to the city where he made his name as an EU-bashing newspaper reporter marks the last chance of a breakthrough before Britain leaves the EU single market.

Talks are blocked over the issue of fair competition, with Britain refusing to accept a mechanism that would allow the EU to retaliate swiftly if UK business regulations change in ways that put European firms at a disadvantage.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost have narrowed the gaps over eight months of talks but London insists it will reclaim full sovereignty at the end of the year after half-a-century of close economic integration.

If Britain leaves the EU single market in three weeks without a follow-on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) the delays that travelers and freight will face at its borders with the European Union will be compounded by import tariffs that will drive up prices.

“I hope we will secure an FTA,” said senior UK minister Michael Gove, who with Johnson led the “leave” campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

But he warned that if there is no deal Britain would take steps “to make sure British businesses are competitive as possible”.

In Berlin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still a chance for a deal.

But she warned: “We must not endanger the integrity of the common market.”

– Demolition claim –

Johnson spoke to Von der Leyen on Monday by telephone to secure the last chance dinner invitation after negotiations between Barnier and Frost broke off without agreement.

He will travel by plane and arrive late Wednesday for talks at the Berlaymont, the EU building he once wrongly reported was scheduled for demolition when he covered Brussels as a newspaper journalist in the early 1990s.

But officials on both sides expressed pessimism ahead of the last-ditch encounter.

“I am always hopeful, but I have to be honest with you, the situation at the moment is tricky,” Johnson said as he toured a London hospital on Tuesday.

“Our friends have to understand the UK has left the EU to exercise democratic control. We are a long way apart still.”

Barnier, meanwhile, gave a downbeat briefing to European ministers ahead of Thursday’s EU leaders summit, then tweeted: “We will never sacrifice our future for the present. Access to our market comes with conditions.”

A senior EU source said Brussels would give no more ground and that if Johnson wanted a deal it was up to him to compromise.

“The sticking point in the negotiations is the equivalence clause requested by the EU to avoid distortions of competition if the UK refuses to align itself over time with EU tax, social and environmental standards,” he said.

But a UK government source warned: “We must be realistic that an agreement may not be possible, as we will not compromise on reclaiming UK sovereignty.”

The source added, however: “If we can make progress at a political level it may allow Lord Frost and his team to resume negotiations over the coming days.”

On Thursday, EU leaders including Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Brussels for a two-day summit dominated by an EU budget dispute, but Johnson is not expected to meet them.

In recent weeks several member states, publicly led by France but representing several of Britain’s closest neighbours, have expressed concern that Germany and Von der Leyen’s European Commission have been too ready to compromise with London.

– ‘Trust and confidence’ –

Even as London and Brussels try to carve out a new trading relationship, the separate and politically vexed issue of Northern Ireland has loomed in the background.

Northern Ireland will have the UK’s only land border with the bloc from next year, and that border is meant to stay open as part of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence over British rule.

Johnson’s government had infuriated Dublin and Brussels by introducing a UK internal market bill that would override the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which bound London to respect Northern Ireland’s unique status.

But some measure of trust was restored on Tuesday when Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said an agreement had been made “in principle” on border arrangements.

The breakthrough covers goods passing from the British mainland to the province, and onwards to the EU’s single market via Ireland.

As a result, London will cut three controversial clauses in the bill going through the UK parliament that would have denied Brussels a say in future trading arrangements between the province and Ireland.

That could smooth the path for Johnson’s trip after Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth pointedly demanded London restore “trust and confidence”.

-AFP

Brussels Orders Closure Of Bars, Cafes To Curb COVID-19 Spikes

Minister-President of Brussels region Rudi Vervoort gestures as he gives a press conference after a meeting of the actors of the Brussels region to discuss tighter measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, at Brussels City Hall in Brussels on October 7, 2020. – (Photo by THIERRY ROGE / BELGA / AFP) / Belgium OUT

 

The Belgian capital took a step towards restoring its coronavirus lockdown Wednesday when Brussels ordered cafes and bars to close for a month.

Restaurants serving meals at table will remain open, but bars and drinking alcohol in public places will be banned until November 8, the regional government said.

This is the second time Brussels has imposed such a measure since the coronavirus outbreak after a previous lockdown helped bring cases down.

But new infections — as well as serious cases involving hospital admissions — are rising again, and regional authorities are tightening rules.

Already, Belgium’s new national government had ordered bars and cafes should close from 11 pm, but regional president Rudi Vervoort decided this was not enough.

The Brussels capital region is home to a densely packed 1.2 million people and is the seat of the Belgian government and of both NATO and the European Union.

In the past week, Belgium as a whole has recorded an average of 2,500 new coronavirus infections per day, up by 57 percent over the previous seven days.

Hospital admissions are also up 25.7 percent over the week, and more than 11 people are dying every day.

With 10,092 deaths from a population of 11.2 million, Belgium is one of the worst-hit countries.

-AFP

Brussels Airlines Lost 182 Million Euros In Six Months

 

Belgium’s biggest airline, Lufthansa subsidiary Brussels Airlines, said Thursday it had lost 182 million euros in the first six months of 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis.

First-half revenues fell to 252 million euros, 63 percent below the same period last year. Brussels Airlines transported two thirds fewer passengers between January and June as much of the world imposed anti-virus lockdowns.

Brussels Airlines suspended all scheduled flights from 21 March, running only special flights to repatriate Belgian and German citizens, transport medical equipment to Africa, and import medical masks from China.

Commercial flying resumed on June 15 as European countries began to ease their social and economic lockdowns, but the airline’s network remains limited.

“Due to the still volatile and highly unpredictable situation worldwide, it is not possible to make forecasts for 2020 as a whole,” the company warned.

Last month the Belgian state and the German flag-carrier Lufthansa struck a deal to rescue its struggling partner.

A Belgian government loan of 290 million euros ($337 million) and a capital injection of 170 million euros from Lufthansa will cover some of the airline’s losses.

But Brussels Airlines plans to use the money for restructuring that will see it shed around a quarter of its workforce — affecting around 1,000 people.

Lufthansa, the leading European transport group, was itself handed a nine billion euro bailout last month from the German government.

 

 

-AFP

Macron Clashes With Rutte And Kurz At EU Summit

Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte (L) looks on next to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel ( 2nd L), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (2nd R) and France's President Emmanuel Macron prior the start of the European Council building in Brussels, on July 18, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP
Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte (L) looks on next to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel ( 2nd L), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (2nd R) and France’s President Emmanuel Macron prior the start of the European Council building in Brussels, on July 18, 2020. Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP

 

Tempers flared as the deadlocked EU coronavirus summit rolled over from Sunday into Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron upbraiding his Dutch and Austrian colleagues and threatening a walk-out.

Frustration had been building for three days as the 27 leaders wrangled over the size and form of an up to 750-billion-euro ($860-billion) package of loans and grants to lift virus-ravaged countries out of recession.

An alliance of so-called “frugals”, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, has been resisting calls for the bulk of the funds to be doled out as non-repayable grants.

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Macron, according to witnesses, bashed the table, attacked Kurz for leaving the room to make a call, and accused Rutte of behaving like former British premier David Cameron — whose strategy “ended badly”.

Cameron often took a hard line at EU summits seeking concessions for Britain, but ended up losing a Brexit referendum — and his job.

According to a European source Kurz was offended by Macron’s behaviour.

A member of the French delegation told AFP that some of the accounts of what had happened has been “a little caricatured” but confirmed that Macron had “taken a hard line on their inconsistencies”.

According to officials, Macron had denounced the two leaders for their insistence that the recovery funds take the form of loans with strict conditions attached, rather than as grants — and had said he would rather walk away than make a bad deal.

France wants at least 400 billion euros to be available as grants, but the Frugals want to cut that back substantially.

Brexit Talks Move To London After Tough Week In Brussels

An anti-Brexit activist waves a Union and a European Union flag as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in central London/ AFP

 

Britain’s separation talks with the European Union resume Monday with few signs of compromise on a new trade agreement and time running out to avoid a messy split.

London will host EU negotiator Michel Barnier after a round of face-to-face talks ended a day early last week in Brussels because of deep divides in the sides’ approach.

Barnier said after ending the negotiations last Thursday that “serious divergences remain”.

His UK counterpart David Frost said there were “significant differences” that meant the sides were still searching for basic “principles underlying an agreement”.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said upon taking over help of the EU’s rotating presidency Wednesday that both her country and the 27-nation bloc “should prepare for the case that an agreement is not reached”.

Britain followed through on the results of a 2016 EU membership referendum and officially pulled out of the bloc in January after nearly half a century.

But a standstill transition period that ends on December 31 allows the UK to effectively function as if it were still a member.

London and Brussels are supposed to agree new trade terms in the meantime that prevent ties from reverting to the minimum standards — and accompanying high tariffs and quotas — of the World Trade Organization.

British businesses fear that possibility and want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give them guidance as soon as possible about whether a trade deal is feasible or not.

This would give them a chance to trigger costly contingency planning aimed at disrupting trade and business activity as little as possible.

But EU officials feel much less pressure to strike a quick agreement and are suggesting that one could still be done by late October.

– Litany of disputes –

Brussels has shrugged off Johnson’s repeated threats to walk away and accept very distant relations with the bloc that complicated trade but gave Britain broader independence.

The differences between the sides remain vast.

London refuses to accept jurisdiction over trade disputes by the European Court of Justice and wants a much bigger part of fishing waters it now shares with the bloc.

A separate dispute concerns the degree to which Britain must follow EU rules on state aid to important economic sectors as well as labour and environmental rules.

London argues that the entire point of leaving the bloc was to give Britain a bigger say over its own affairs.

Brussels counters that Britain cannot expect to undercut the bloc on price through looser standards and still expect a favourable trade deal.

The talks in London are being held in an intensified format that follows video conference discussion held at the European height of the coronavirus crisis.

AFP

 

EU Launches Judicial Freedom Case Against Poland

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU on Wednesday launched a new legal challenge against reforms in Poland that Brussels says threaten judicial independence.

The move is the latest round in a long-running tussle between the European Commission — the bloc’s executive — and right-wing governments in Eastern Europe it accuses of undermining fundamental EU values.

Wednesday’s case is the fourth lodged by commission against Warsaw since the conservative government there began seeking new oversight over judges’ work and careers.

Some of the reforms have been already been softened or rolled back, but the Polish government is pushing ahead with new disciplinary rules opposed by Brussels.

A commission statement said the latest “infringement procedure” was “designed to safeguard the independence of judges in Poland” against “political control”.

It was announced by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who travelled to Poland in January to raise concerns with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government.

“Member states can reform their judiciary, but they have to do it without breaching the EU treaties,” she told reporters during a Brussels video briefing.

“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions, among others.

“This is a European issue, because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently.

“This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” she warned, giving Warsaw two months to respond to an action that “can not have come as a surprise”.

– Judicial unease –

According to the commission, the law “increases the number of cases in which the content of judicial decisions can be qualified as a disciplinary offence.

“As a result, the disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions.”

In a sign of unease, a German court in February refused to extradite a suspect to Poland, citing fears that the judicial reforms might deprive him of a fair trial.

Three infringement procedures have already been launched against Poland since 2017.

The first two, concerning retirement conditions for judges of the ordinary courts and the Supreme Court, were upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In the third case, concerning the new rules for judges, the court ordered Poland on April 8 to suspend the new disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court, pending a final ruling.

The head of the Polish Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, ordered the suspension, but the decision was challenged and the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.

The European Commission has also initiated a procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland in 2017, which in theory can lead to political sanctions.

This mechanism, provided for in the event of a “serious breach” of the rule of law in an EU member, has also been activated, this time by the European Parliament, against Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

AFP

NATO Chief Backs Assessment That Iran Missile Downed Ukrainian Plane

 

 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday he had no reason to doubt reports from Western capitals suggesting an Iranian missile brought down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people.

“I will not go into details about our intelligence but what I can say is we have no reason to not believe the reports we have seen from different NATO-allied capitals,” Stoltenberg said.

Canada and Britain have both said Iran shot down the plane outside Tehran, possibly mistakenly.

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