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Belgium names new transport minister after terror row

Belgium's newly appointed Transport Minister Francois Bellot (L) and liberal party reformist movement (MR) chairman Olivier Chastel give a press conference at the MR headquarters in Brussels on April 17, 2016
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – The Belgian government on Sunday appointed a new transport minister in a reshuffle sparked by allegations of lax security at Brussels airport, one of two targets hit by suicide bombers last month.

The new minister is Francois Bellot, 62, who replaces Jacqueline Galant, whose resignation on Friday made her the first political casualty of the attacks. 

Bellot will meet King Philippe on Monday to take his oath of office, the Belgian royal palace said in a statement.

Galant quit in a blaze of anger, blaming “well-orchestrated theatrics” and a “media crusade” by political enemies for forcing her out.

The media had reported the European Union (EU) repeatedly warned of security flaws at Zaventem airport. A top ministerial official also quit, accusing her of incompetence and “Gestapo-like” behaviour.

Bellot, like Galant, is a francophone liberal — one of the many streams in Belgian politics, whose landscape is fractured along linguistic as well as political lines.

The country has had a string of ministers over the past half dozen years. The present coalition government took office in October 2014 after nearly five months of haggling following elections.

A low-profile lawmaker in the national parliament and mayor of the town of Rochefort, in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, Bellot is a civil engineer by training and specialist in railway transport, according to his Reform Movement party.

In a first response to his appointment, Bellot promised to restore “serenity, calm and trust,” with the top priority of bringing operations at Zaventem back to normal.

Separately, at least a thousand people gathered in Brussels on Sunday for the start of a “march against terror and hate”.

The marchers left the Gare du Nord railway station, and were to team up with another group which started off from Molenbeek, the rundown district struggling with the reputation of being a jihadist haven.

Organisers are hoping for a turnout of 15,000, according to Belgian media.

“When our fellow citizens, defenceless civilians, are cut down in a cowardly attack, all citizens should stand up to express their disgust and solidarity,” said Hassan Bousetta, a local councillor in the city of Liege, who helped organise the march, told AFP.

Thirty-two people were killed, 16 of them at Zaventem, in the March 22 attacks, which also targeted a subway train near the European Union institutions in central Brussels.

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