Belgian and Turkish foreign ministers trade barbs over terrorism and discrimination issues

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Hadja Lahbib, suffered hard criticism this Thursday from her Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, during her visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara.

The head of Turkish diplomacy judged that Belgium was not doing enough against the Kurdish separatist movement PKK. ​ At the end of a press conference, Çavuşoğlu called PKK demonstrations in Belgium an "illegal terrorist activities" coordination.

"What I expect from you is that you take action against the terrorists who are active in your country," said Çavuşoğlu to Lahbib. "Just yesterday there was a PKK demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Brussels. If Daesh cannot do this, the PKK either then", criticized the Turkish minister.

Lahbib replied that Belgium is aware of PKK sympathizers' presence in Belgium, but investigations have been carried out and revealed "nothing that would not fall within the framework of freedom of expression and freedom of demonstration". "But of course, we are open to any additional information from the Turkish security services", underlined Lahbib.

In an interview with the Belga News Agency, the Belgian minister developed her position. "Let Turkey give us the evidence, and then we will take action, because Belgium also considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization," she declared. "Turkey does not want that sympathizers can demonstrate with flags (in Belgium), but as long as there is no call to hatred and the use of violence, we will tolerate that," Lahbib added.

Bilateral meeting

Lahbib tried to pour oil on troubled waters, reminding other subjects of the bilateral meeting. "No difficult subject was left out: the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, the joint fight against terrorism and radicalism, Islam in Belgium, human rights, women's rights, the war in Ukraine... It was an open dialogue," she said.

The Turkish minister also mentioned the terrorist attacks that his country went through. Last month, a bomb exploded on a busy street in Istanbul. The country is also the target of attacks on its border with Syria.

"Belgium understands the Turkish concern for its national security, but we are deeply worried about a possible new Turkish ground operation in Iraq and Syria. This represents a risk of escalation. Our common priority must be the fight against Daesh", insisted the Belgian minister.

Racism in both countries

Besides, Çavuşoğlu complained that the Turkish community in Belgium is victim of islamophobia and racism. "Yes, there is racism in Belgium," recognized Lahbib. "But there is also racism in Turkey. There is racism everywhere," she replied.

Lahbib also highlighted to the Turkish minister that all forms of discrimination should be fought, such as discrimination against women and against sexual orientation. "I made it clear that all of this was a package for us," the Belgian minister said.

A report conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Europe revealed that Turkey ranked the second worst country in the European continent for LGBT equality policies and laws, with Azerbaijan and Armenia scoring first and third last, respectively.



Belgian Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu hold a press conference after their diplomatic meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday 15 December 2022. © BELGA PHOTO (VIRGINIE LEFOUR)










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