First Published: 2002-11-29

Riots in Antwerp sparked by killing of Moroccan

Belgium clamps down after north African immigrants clash with police to protest against Moroccan's murder.


Middle East Online

20 people remain in jail, out of 160 who were arrested during unrest

ANTWERP, Belgium - Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt condemned Thursday riots in Antwerp sparked by the killing of a young immigrant, and said he was considering banning an Islamic group in the northern city.

"If necessary we will ban the European Arab League (EAL), but we will do it within the framework of the law and in line with the inquiry which prosecutors are currently pursuing," he told parliament.

Twenty people remained in jail Thursday, out of the 160 who were arrested during the unrest Tuesday and Wednesday in the city, which has a large immigrant population and is a bastion of the far-right.

Between 200 and 250 young protestors, mostly of north African origin, clashed with police for several hours Wednesday evening.

The unrest occurred in the Antwerp district where a 27-year-old Moroccan, a teacher of Islamic religion, was beaten to death on Tuesday by the neighbour of his father.

Stones were thrown and windows and cars were damaged in initial unrest after the killing, and the clashes resumed Wednesday.

Antwerp, Belgian's second city, is a stronghold of the far-right Vlaams Blok party which won more than a third of the votes in municipal elections in October 2000.

The city is home to a large immigrant population, mainly from Morocco and Turkey.

The 66-year-old Belgian suspected of the murder was arrested the same day, and is under arrest pending further investigations.

In initial questioning he appeared "confused," and it was unclear if there was any racist motivation for the attack, said Dominique Reyniers, a prosecution office spokeswoman.

The EAL caused a storm earlier this month when it began organizing patrols to guard against anti-Muslim discrimination by police, amid heightened security due to terrorist threats.

The EAL has some 100 members and has no links with the Arab League, according to the Belgian press. It is headed by Dyab Abou JahJah, a Lebanese-born local Muslim who has caused controversy since September 11 by a number of statements.

He has notably called for Arabic to be recognized as a fourth official language in Belgium, after French, Dutch and German.

On Thursday the EAL said it would sue Antwerp mayor Leona Detiege for defamation. "Detiege has said many things about us which he cannot prove, giving people a wrong impression of us and of our cause," said EAL official Ahmed Azzuz.


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