Brussels summit controversy: Foreign minister looks set to survive confidence vote

It looks as if Belgium's Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib of francophone liberal party MR will survive the confidence vote in the House on Thursday evening. The francophone socialists (PS) will approve the majority motion, except for one abstention, while Ecolo-Groen (greens) have confirmed their intention not to let the government fall.

Among PS members of parliament, Belga has learned that one MP will abstain from voting. The majority motion overrules the opposition's motion of no-confidence, calling for Lahbib's resignation. The francophone socialists and greens earlier called for Lahbib's resignation but decided on Tuesday not to push through, in order to safeguard the government. MR leader Georges-Louis Bouchez had linked his minister's fate to that of the entire government.

According to prime minister Alexander De Croo, Lahbib will "clarify the current situation" in parliament on Thursday afternoon. He said this on his arrival at the EU summit in Brussels.

Opposition members filmed

Earlier on Thursday, PS and Ecolo had called for Lahbib to evaluate her own position in response to an article in Het Laatste Nieuws, in which two Iranian opposition members in Belgium say their mother was interrogated for hours by security forces in Iran. The men say they were filmed during a protest in Brussels on 13 June.

The issue builds on the Brussels Urban Summit controversy that has plunged the federal government into crisis over the past few weeks: Lahbib granted the visas that allowed an Iranian delegation to attend a conference in Brussels, leading to widespread indignation among majority and opposition parties.

"If people are arrested and tortured in Iran because Iranian secret agents were given visas, allowing them to come to Brussels to film the Iranian opposition, that is a serious matter for us"

"If people are arrested and tortured in Iran because Iranian secret agents were given visas, allowing them to come to Brussels to film the Iranian opposition, that is a serious matter for us," said Ecolo-Groen group leader Wouter De Vriendt. "So we ask for an investigation; the allegations in the newspaper article must be double-checked."


The presence of a 14-member Iranian delegation, including Tehran's mayor, Alireza Zakani, at the Brussels Urban Summit from 12 to 15 June drew widespread criticism this month. Brussels secretary of state Pascal Smet (Vooruit, Flemish socialists) has already resigned over the issue.

Lahbib was questioned before the parliamentary Foreign Affairs committee and apologised this week for her role in the affair. After severe criticism from the opposition and MR's coalition partners - greens and social democrats - over the "diplomatic fiasco", De Croo came to Lahbib's defence, linking his fate to hers.



Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE

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