Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing-777 passenger plane traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down on July 17, 2014, over Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk. The crash killed all the 283 passengers, citizens of 10 countries, and 15 crew members. In spite of the active armed conflict on the ground, Kiev didn't close its airspace over the Donbass region to international passenger flights. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), consisting of representatives from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, was set up to investigate the tragedy. In June 2017, the JIT countries made a decision that the hearing will be held in a Dutch court under the Dutch laws. The Netherlands’ prosecution heads the JIT and will be responsible for filing the case and presenting the details. In accordance with the decision of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, the case will be heard at the Schiphol Judicial Complex in the town of Badhoevedorp. In May 2018, Australia and the Netherlands said that they would seek to hold Russia responsible for complicity in the plane crash on the grounds of the provisional report published by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) claiming that the missile system that was used to down Flight MH17 could have been transferred from Russia and be a part of the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade near Kursk. Moscow rejects the JIT accusations. Particularly, the Russian Defense Ministry said that no Russian army missile system had ever crossed the Ukrainian border. Moreover, the defense ministry’s representatives reported that they had identified the missile that was launched to down the Boeing and established that it was transferred over to the Ukrainian troops back in 1986 and had never returned to Russia since.
DEN HAAG, June 11 -- Two Dutch-Belgian orphans of Islamic State fighters were amongst a group of fourteen others to have been flown into Europe from Syria on Monday, according to reports.
A French military airplane carrying two Dutch-Belgian children and twelve French orphans landed in a Paris airport on Monday. The orphans lived in the Ain Issa refugee camp in Syria, close to the country’s Turkish border, and were said to be in a “particularly vulnerable” situation. The two orphans are thought to be the children of a late Antillean-Dutch woman and a now-deceased Belgian Islamic State (IS) fighter. Dutch authorities were present when the airplane landed in Paris, and will reportedly entrust both children to a Dutch guardian. The French orphans will be handed over to social security services in the country. Around 250 children are thought to be still living in refugee camps and other locations across Syria, according to Reuters. In May, a group of academics signed an open letter calling for Belgium to honour a 2017 commitment to repatriate the orphans of all jihadist fighters. That year, a court ruling had obliged Belgium to repatriate all orphans under the age of ten. With the recent repatriations, France has now brought back 17 IS orphans from Syria.
MADRID, June 8 -- Eden Hazard completed his long-awaited move from Chelsea to Real Madrid on Friday (June 7) and could become the Spanish club's most expensive signing in their history.
Real said Hazard, 28, had signed a five-year contract. His contract at the Premier League club was due to expire next year but the Blues drove a hard bargain for the forward, who will reportedly cost Madrid an initial €100 million (S$154 million), with another 45 million in potential add-ons. The full amount would trump the €101 million Madrid paid Tottenham for Gareth Bale and the €91 million they spent to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. An unveiling at the Santiago Bernabeu is expected next week, once Hazard returns from international duty with Belgium, who play Euro 2020 qualifiers against Kazakhstan on Saturday and Scotland on Tuesday. It means Madrid's spending spree is picking up pace following the arrivals of defender Eder Militao and striker Luka Jovic from Porto and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively. But Hazard is the gem Zinedine Zidane can build his new team around and brings the kind of stardust Madrid fans have craved ever since the sale of Ronaldo to Juventus last summer. Ronaldo's departure created a void up front that Madrid failed to fill last season, the team struggling for goals en route to finishing 19 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and crashing out to Ajax in the last 16 of the Champions League. Hazard, who scored 110 goals in seven seasons at Chelsea, will be expected to help plug the gap has long-been admired by Zidane and Madrid president Florentino Perez. "We have wanted to sign Hazard for several years and I hope he will come this year," Perez told Spanish radio station Onda Cero last month. Less clear is where Hazard will fit into Zidane's starting line-up. Assuming he plays in his favoured position on the left of a front three, it would mean displacing the 18-year-old Brazilian, Vinicius Junior, who enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough year last season. Chelsea said the club had tried to persuade Hazard to stay. "Although it is with sadness we say goodbye to Eden - and we made it absolutely clear to him the club wished him to stay - we respect the decision he has made to take on a new challenge in a different country and follow his childhood dream of playing for Real Madrid," Chelsea club director Marina Granovskaia said in a statement.
Hazard's arrival also adds more uncertainty around the future of Gareth Bale, who has played both on the left and right of the attacking trio in recent months but is clearly not part of Zidane's plans. Madrid want to sell Bale to raise money for more signings, with French left-back Ferland Mendy the next player expected to arrive, from Lyon. But the Wales international will not be forced out and has so far shown no interest in the handful of clubs that have shown interest. Neither Bale nor his agent Jonathan Barnett have spoken to the club since the end of the season. Hazard though would do well to match Bale's record in Madrid as he looks to add to the trophies he won at Chelsea, which included two Premier League and two Europa League titles, as well as one FA Cup and one League Cup. At the end of the 2014-15 season, in which Chelsea won the league, Hazard was awarded both the PFA Players' Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season. He was named in the PFA Premier League team of the year four times, in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. If Madrid pay the full amount, Chelsea stand to make a profit of more than €100 million, having signed Hazard for close to €40 million from Lille in 2012. Chelsea had just won the Champions League when Hazard chose them over several other clubs but they have failed to replicate the success in the competition. After reaching the semi-finals in 2014, Chelsea have not gone past the last 16 in the last five seasons.
BRUSSELS, June 4 -- On Tuesday a public online consultation on the National Energy Climate Plan (PNEC) will be launched by the “caretaker” government, the cabinet of Federal Minister of Energy Marie Christine Marghem confirmed on Wednesday.
The questionnaire will give citizens the opportunity to comment on the PNEC commitments made by Belgium’s various authorities. The questions will be published on the FPS Economy (Federal public service) website, Directorate General for energy and will remain online for six weeks, the cabinet said.
The questions are not yet known. De Morgen evoked on Wednesday a series of fifteen questions, such as “do you want more offshore wind turbines?” Or “how can you reduce your energy consumption?”. In parallel to these questions, comments can be added. The consultation follows a request from the European Commission, which asked all Member States to question their population on their country’s climate plan. Belgium had therefore indicated in the PNEC that a public consultation would be held “in the first quarter of 2019”. The slight delay is partly due to the coordination of Belgium’s levels of power (Federal State and three Regions).
Citizens will be informed of this consultation via the Internet, Twitter and the media, among others, Marghem’s cabinet ensured. According to WWF spokesperson Julie Vandenberghe, quoted in De Morgen, “it is clear that the government prefers that as few people as possible address this climate plan.” “Europe expects broad public consultation, but what do we get? A simple questionnaire to be published on a website during the summer, with no publicity,” she said. The final text of the Climate Energy National Plan must be submitted to the European Commission by the end of 2019. Based on the national plans, the Commission will then assess and monitor progress towards achieving 2030 climate and energy goals, recommending when deemed necessary additional measures to be adopted.
BRUSSELS, December 18 -- Belgian Prime minister Charles Michel lost his majority after a clash with the right-wing N-VA party over the UN Migration Pact.
A dispute in Belgium's center-right government about the UN Migration Pact ended with the Flemish nationalists of N-VA leaving the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Charles Michel was left with a minority cabinet, but still went to Marrakesh to ratify the UN pact with the support of the Parliament. According to the opposition, he should face a vote of confidence in the Parliament, and if this happens he will probably lose. Constitutional experts are divided about the situation. Michel is trying to save his government and avoid a national election five months earlier than scheduled.
But considering how antagonistic the N-VA has become towards its former coalition partners, every scenario is possible.
BRUSSELS, December 9 -- Prime minister Charles Michel takes a plane for Marrakesh today, determined to communicate Belgium’s support for the United Nations’ migration pact, despite the fact that he leaves behind the collapse of his majority government over that very issue.
Michel (pictured) and his supporters are adamant that the N-VA – the largest party in the government coalition – has forced the issue by offering the ultimatum to Michel: travel to Marrakesh and you government without us. The N-VA, on the other hand, insist that Michel has forced them out of the government by his intransigence. “If prime minister Michel leaves for Marrakesh, he is de facto sacking us from the government,” N-VA president Bart De Wever told a press conference on Saturday evening. “Then he is pushing us out of the government.”
The distinction is crucial to N-VA: as past events have shown, parties who bring about the premature fall of a government in Belgium pay for it at the ballot box, the last example being Open VLD as led by Alexander De Croo. N-VA is currently, according to the latest poll, the largest party in Flanders, but any loss of public support would still be a loss. But it is now a battle of words. The demise of this majority has been on the cards since N-VA made its position clear on the UN pact. With a list of 30 objections that essentially boil down to an opposition to unregulated mass migration, the party set a collision course with every other party in parliament other than the Vlaams Belang.
When Michel received assurances that he could count on the support on this issue of even opposition parties CD&V and the Ecolo-Groen alliance, it was clear that N-VA would not be able to stop the Pact from being signed. Once that was established, they could no longer serve in the government – particularly as they were supplying the country’s minister in charge of migration. The matter dragged on and on, however. A meeting of key ministers was postponed when N-VA released an online campaign expressing opposition to the Pact in inflammatory terms that were welcomed by Vlaams Belang – who immediately picked up the baton when N-VA scrapped the campaign. Michel took the question to the parliament’s foreign affairs committee and then to the plenary session of members, receiving majority support both times. Friday’s ministerial meeting did not broach the subject, which was picked up again on Saturday evening, when Michel forced the issue – he would be getting on a plane to Marrakesh on Sunday, and let the chips fall where they may.
The question now is how Michel can go on governing with a minority coalition, in order to avoid a snap election just months before regular parliamentary elections are due. He may be able to rely on N-VA support on some matters, and opposition support on others, but each matter that is raised between now and May will have to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
The posts held until now by N-VA politicians, including the job of secretary of state for asylum and migration, face no shortage of place-fillers. Among those being mentioned are Pieter De Crem, who will leave parliament at the elections, but whose experience ensures he is a safe pair of hands for home affairs in the place of Jan Jambon. Migration could go to the ever-popular Maggie De Block, who held the job before, while secretary of state for agriculture and social integration, Denis Ducarme, could step into the shoes of defence minister Sander Loones, who only got the job in November.
If that support is forthcoming, he will then go to a plenary session of parliament for their imprimatur. That done – and opposition greens and socialists have promised their support so it likely will be done – the Flemish nationalists N-VA will probably have no other choice but to step down from the government.
The government has been teetering on the edge of collapse for some weeks now, since N-VA appeared to reverse their previous support for the Pact and become outright opponents. The party itself, and its front-man on this issue, the combative asylum and migration minister Theo Francken, came out with a dossier of 30 points to which it objects.
Those can be summed up under eight main headings: whether the Pact is legally binding; the way it accords universal rights to refugees and migrants; the question of national sovereignty; the grant of identity papers; the provision by states of information on migration; the question of legal migration; the duty of fair, informed and objective journalism free of discrimination; and the question of return of migrants to their homeland.
Matters came to a head yesterday, when a planned meeting of the prime minister with his vice-premiers was cancelled at the last minute to allow bilateral talks to go ahead. The trigger: the launch online of a new campaign by the N-VA against the Migration Pact, with the issue framed in the most inflammatory terms, including photos of women in burqa, Arab youths hanging around shopping centres and a rubber dinghy crossing the sea, filled with all young men.
The campaign provoked horror among other parties, and shock within the N-VA itself, with home affairs minister Jan Jambon describing it as a poor choice of photos and a mistake by the communications department. Peter De Roover, fraction leader for N-VA in the parliament, said, “The tone of the campaign is not the tone I myself have adopted, because we have no need of that to be convincing.” The campaign was later revealed to have been the brainchild of Joachim Pohlmann, the party spokesman considered to be one of Bart De Wever's right-hand men.
Vlaams Belang’s Filip De Winter, meanwhile, congratulated the N-VA on its campaign, which the party promptly withdrew, only to see Vlaams Belang adopt its style and images for its own opposition to the Pact.
The day closed with N-VA meeting in closed session, and not a word leaking out, while Charles Michel planned his appearances before the committee and before parliament. Later this afternoon will show whether, as expected, he gets the support he needs from members to go to Marrakesh, and what the reaction of N-VA will be. After that, the question will be, does the country go to the polls for the second time in as many months, or can Michel soldier on with a minority administration until elections are due in May?
Salah Abdesalam, a Belgian national, is suspected to be hiding in the Brussels area and carrying what might be an explosive device. Charles Michel, Belgium's prime minister, moved to increase the state of alert in Brussels to the highest level early on Saturday in response to the threat.
Metro services and major events have since been suspended as hundreds of police officers and soldiers fanned out across the city. Residents have been asked to stay indoors and avoid crowded areas amid the alert, which is in force only in Brussels.
Emergency phone lines have been set up to report suspicious activity, as well as sightings of Abdesalam.
Belgium has been at the forefront of efforts to track down those involved in helping execute the November 13 attacks in Paris, which targeted a concert hall, football stadium, cafe and shopping mall. On Thursday, the country's security services launched raids in the Molenbeek and Jette neighbourhoods of Brussels and made further arrests on Saturday.
The attacks were blamed on the Islamic State (IS) group, and several of the attackers are believed to have received training in Syria.
The apparent ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was a Belgian national who fought with IS and is suspected of helping to inspire or direct previous attacks targeting France. Since the start of October, IS has launched a number of attacks against targets outside the territory it primarily operates in, including in France, Lebanon, and Turkey.
The group has also claimed credit for bringing down on October 31 a Russian airliner in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula by smuggling a bomb on board.