Belgian PM confirms relaunch of conference against racism

Belgian PM confirms relaunch of conference against racism
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Belgium's inter-ministerial conference against racism will be relaunched after being halted during the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès confirmed on Thursday in a plenary House session.

The relaunch had already been announced on Wednesday by Walloon Minister for Equal Opportunities Christie Morreale.

The country's various entities agreed on 19 February to set up such a conference as the first step in a process that should lead to a national action plan against racism.

The initiative followed a 2019 arson attack on a building in Bilzen in the province of Limburg (Flanders) intended to accommodate asylum seekers. Racists comments broadcasted on social networks on the occasion of the disappearance of a migrant boat off De Panne also contributed.

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Wilmès was questioned on racism by the House following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died of asphyxiation after being pinned down by a police officer.

The only two political parties that did not speak out were the right-wing N-VA and far-right Vlaams Belang. "Choose your side," said Jessika Soors, an MP for the Dutch-speaking Green party, to N-VA. "We cannot hear you in this debate."

"I share this fierce will to fight again and again against racism and violence in all its forms, everywhere in the world and, you are right, in Belgium too," Wilmès said, reminding her fellow MPs of the "legislative arsenal" in place to combat racism.

This arsenal includes Unia (a public institution combatting discrimination and promoting equal opportunities), the Committee P (the Permanent Oversight Committee on the Police Services) and the Inspectorate General.

Regardless, "it is necessary to have a coordinated inter-federal policy," the PM said.

Wilmès also invited those who would like to demonstrate against racism and violence against black people on Sunday to find an alternative.

"I invite them to assess the (health) consequences that this could have. 5,000 people could indeed mobilize on Sunday. The mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, is in discussion with the organizers and I hope he will find an alternative with them."

Close had mentioned on Thursday that discussions about a protest were underway, while Wilmès had reiterated that demonstrations were not allowed in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Jason Spinks

The Brussels Times

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