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.

Belgian Media Say Brussels Prime Suspect Not Arrested

beliganBelgian media which earlier reported the arrest on Wednesday of a prime suspect in Tuesday’s bomb attacks in Brussels said the person detained was not, in fact, Najim Laachraoui.

La Libre Belgique newspaper said another person had been arrested. DH, which first reported the story, also said the man detained in the Anderlecht district had been misidentified.

Paris Attacks: Abdeslam’s Capture ‘Major Blow’ To ISIS – Cazeneuve

Salah AbdeslamFrance’s Interior Minister has said that the capture of a suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, is “a major blow” to the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Europe.

Bernard Cazeneuve said that security forces had managed to “incapacitate several individuals who are clearly extremely dangerous and totally determined.”

France is seeking suspect Abdeslam’s extradition from Belgium.

He was wounded and arrested in a dramatic raid in Brussels on Friday, after four months on the run.

French President, Francois Hollande, said Abdeslam’s arrest was “an important moment.

“The battle against terrorism does not end tonight, even though this is a victory.

“We must catch all those who allowed, organised or facilitated these attacks and we realise that they are a lot more numerous than we thought earlier and had identified,” Mr Hollande told a news conference on Friday with Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel.

Abdeslam was believed to have masterminded the Paris attacks which killed 130 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The suspect, a 26-year-old French national born in Brussels, had lived in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital before the Paris attacks.

Belgian PM Summons Security Chiefs After Gunman Killed

BelgiumPrime Minister Charles Michel summoned security and intelligence chiefs for an emergency sitting of Belgium’s national security council on Wednesday after an armed suspect was shot dead following a raid linked to the Paris attacks.

One Belgian private broadcaster, VTM, said two further suspects had been detained but there was no confirmation.

Brussels police killed the unidentified person who had an assault rifle after four officers were wounded on Tuesday during what investigators had expected to be a routine search on an apartment in the south of the Belgian capital.

Michel told RTL radio on Wednesday morning that police planned further operations in the coming hours and days.

“The threat remains,” Michel said, adding that Belgium would review its level of alertness and consider possible extra measures during the day.

Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was entirely locked down for days shortly after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Several of those involved in the Islamic State shootings and suicide bombings were based in the city.

Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.

Migrant Crisis: EU, Turkey Close In On Deal

Migrant- Ahmet Davutoglu and Donald TuskThe EU and Turkey said that they are close to reaching a deal on how to ease the migration crisis at a summit in Brussels.

European Council President, Donald Tusk on Tuesday, said that irregular migrants arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey.

For each migrant returned, Turkey wants the EU to accept a Syrian refugee on a one-for-one basis, and offer more funding and progress on EU integration.

Mr Tusk said that leaders had made a “breakthrough”, and he was hopeful of concluding a deal next week.

He said the progress sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”.

Talks would continue ahead of an EU meeting scheduled for March 17 and 18.

Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since world war two. Most migrants came via Turkey, which is already sheltering more than 2.7 million refugees from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.