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Belgium in the front line to reconstruct foreign policy of EU

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On Thursday, 30 July, a court in Antwerp, Belgium held the second preliminary hearing on the case of Assadollah Assadi, the clerical regime’s diplomat, who, was in the process of carrying out the terrorist bombing of the major gathering of Iranians on 30 June, 2018 in Villepinte, Paris. Along with Assadi, his three accomplices Amir Saadouni, Nasimeh Naami and Mehrdad Arefani will be tried too, writes Ali Bagheri.

The three-judge panel referred the case of the four jailed terrorists to the Antwerp Special Counter-Terrorism Branch. This marked the completion of the preliminary stages of the trial of Assadi and his accomplices, which the Iranian regime had spared no effort to prevent from happening. The trial will begin on 27 November, 2020.

Earlier on 15 July, the first session of the court upheld the indictment of the federal prosecutor against these terrorists, and agreed with the request of the federal prosecutor to put Assadi and his accomplices on trial on two charges of "attempted terrorist act with intention of murder" and "participation in a terrorist group.” This is the first time that a diplomat in Europe is being prosecuted for direct involvement in terrorism.

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Iran protests put the clerics at gunpoint

The clerical regime in Tehran, is in a crippling situation inside and outside the country. December 2017 and Nov 2019 uprisings forced the regime to cut down the Internet for 1 week and also reports show the regime has killed at least 1,500 unarmed protesters. These protests completely destroyed Iranian regime legitimacy inside the country.

Recently, the Iranian regime has sentenced several of detainees with death penalty. Such an action received a huge opposition in social media to stop execution in Iran. Following these massive campaigns and rallies of Iranians in US, and EU countries, the Iranian regime step back and has postponed these verdicts until now.

Trump wants the Iranian regime on its knees

The US sanctions which were imposed after the decision of US president, Donald Trump, to pull out of Iran Nuclear Deal confronted the Iranian regime with a critical situation. According to Reuters, Iran’s oil export has dropped below 100,000 barrels per day. Iran was exporting more than 2 million barrels per day after JCPOA which lifted oil sanctions on Iran. Consequently, Iran GDP has shrieked by 7.6% in the first 9 months of 2019/20. It has also caused the Iran currency, Rial, to plunge drastically, each USD is more valuable than 230,000 Rials now.

EU must pay a lot to keep the same policy towards Iran

The prosecution of the Iranian diplomat for terrorist activities can disperse the limited number of voices who try to keep financial and political bonds with this regime. In fact, Belgium is going to play a historical role in EU foreign policy. The outcome of Assadollah Assdid terrorism can lead to several scenarios that each of them is a milestone away from what we observe today.

In summary, France expelled Iranian ambassador and another member of the Iran embassy in Paris. Albania, the country that hosts MEK, the main opposition group, has expelled the Iran ambassador and several embassy charge d’affaires for their activities in terror plots. Netherlands has expelled 2 other Iranian diplomats. All these has happened since 2018.

The EU policy since the past decades promotes the Iranian regime key points and the so-called moderate parties, president Hassan Rohani and the FM Javad Zarif, are well known figures of the so-called moderates in Iran. Ironically, they made a dreadful record in executions and human right violations.

The trial of Assadollah Asadi is getting more important when we have a look on the other side of the case. The National Council of Resistance of Iran provided documents to the court which shows Asadi received his orders directly from the ministry of Intelligence and security (MOIS) and he was the head of MOIS in Europe. In addition, he is directly working under the directives of the ministry of foreign affairs of Iran. Consequently, his conviction in the Belgium court will also impact two major ministries of Iran which are part of the state. Therefore it can lead to designate the Iranian regime not just as a state sponsor of terrorism, but as a terrorist state which has its own consequences.

Firstly, all of the privileges and resources that the regime relies on to carry out its terrorist acts in Europe must be taken away from it. The regime's embassies must be closed. Annual report released in June 2019, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Germany (BfV) said: "In Germany, the headquarters of the Ministry of Intelligence at the Iranian embassy in Berlin plays an important role in intelligence operations. In addition to independent intelligence operations, this agency also supports activities undertaken by the Ministry of Intelligence [in Tehran]."

Secondly, the front companies, cultural and educational centers, religious associations and so-called mosques that are funded and supported by the Iranian regime are all centers that sustain the regime's espionage and terrorist activities, and so they must be exposed and closed down.

Next, the regime's agents and operatives who function under the cover of commercial, cultural, or religious activities, or pretend to be journalists or opponents, refugees, or citizens, must be expelled from European countries.

These actions will significantly impact the criminal network of a terrorist state which are permitted to work legally even now. In addition, these are needed to guarantee if EU can protect its boarders and its residents from a terrorist state which uses all its assets to conduct terrorism. As it is stated by Claude Moniquet, co-founder and CEO of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, terrorism when it comes to the Iranian regime in foreign policy is not an accident but a method.

Europe seeks a new approach

Until today we have observed an appeasement approach towards Iran. Despite a massive human right violation, massive interference of the Iranian regime in the region, still EU countries do not want to mess up things with Iran. They try to support moderate voices and bring the regime to the negotiation table for several times. However, the terrorist case in Antwerp court can change the known policy for the past 40 years. Western governments, in order to protect their security and intelligence services must prevent from communicating or contacting the regime's notorious Intelligence Ministry or its Qods Force, an exchange that only facilitates the entry of the regime's agents into Europe.

Maybe the time has arrived for EU to start recognition and supporting the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its President-elect, Maryam Rajavi (pictured), whose 10 point plan guarantees a democratic shift in Iran and also many Islamic states in the region. The lady that the Iranian regime sought to assassinate her and some of the most prominent American and European officials in attendance in the Villepinte gathering leads the strongest opposition movement against the Iranian regime and seeks for democracy, freedom and secularism in Iran, the values that no one disagrees in Europe.

All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not represent the opinions of EU Reporter.

Belgium

Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades

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The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

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A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods

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The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.

Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.

Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.

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Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.

"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.

"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."

Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.

But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.

Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.

Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.

Members of the Bundeswehr forces, surrounded by partially submerged cars, wade through the flood water following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Austrian rescue team members use their boats as they go through an area affected by floods, following heavy rainfalls, in Pepinster, Belgium, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.

It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.

Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.

RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.

In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.

Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.

Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.

Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.

The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.

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35 years - and still going strong!

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The year 1986 was marked by both advances and setbacks. Technology advances helped the Soviet Union launch the Mir Space Station and had the UK and France building the Chunnel. Sadly, it also saw the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the explosion of one of the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl.

In Belgium, the country’s footballers came home to a hero’s welcome after finishing 4th in the Mexico World Cup.

The year was also notable for one other event: the opening of L’Orchidee Blanche in Brussels, now one of the acknowledged best Vietnamese restaurants in the country.

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Back in 1986, when Katia Nguyen (pictured) opened the restaurant in what was then a quiet Brussels neighbourhood, she could not have realised what a huge success it would be.

This year, the restaurant marks its 35th anniversary, a real milestone,  and it has come a long in the intervening years, so much so  that it is now a byword for fine Asian cuisine, not just in this now-bustling area of Brussels but further afield.

Indeed, word had spread so far about the quality of the excellent Vietnamese food available here that, a few years ago, it was awarded the prestige title of “Best Asian Restaurant in Belgium” by the renowned food guide, Gault and Millau.

Katia is the first to accept that her success also owes a lot to her team, who just happen to be all-female (this partly reflects the traditional role women occupy in the Vietnamese kitchen).

The longest serving among them is Trinh, who has been dishing up wonderful Vietnamese meals in the small, open-plan kitchen her for a couple of decades now, while other “veteran” staff members include Huong, who has been here 15 years and Linh, a  relative newcomer having worked here for four years!

They, along with their colleagues, are beautifully dressed in authentic Vietnamese costumes,something else the resto is famous for. To hold on to staff for so long also reflects well on the excellent management style of Katia.

It is all a long way from the days, back in the 1970s, when Katia first arrived in this country for her studies. Like so many of her compatriots she had fled the Vietnam war in search of a better life in the West and she set about starting a new life in her “new” home – Belgium.

For connoisseurs of great Vietnamese food that was, well, rather good news.

The standard set when Katia, still relatively freshly arrived in Belgium from Saigon, opened the restaurant back in 1986 is just as high today as it was then.

Despite the awful health pandemic that has wrought havoc in the hospitality sector here, Katia’s “army” of loyal customers are now flooding back to sample the wonderful delights concocted by her highly talented, Vietnamese-born team.

The restaurant is located close to the ULB university and everything here is prepared in house. The dishes are based on either traditional or more contemporary recipes but similar to the best you might find in Vietnam itself. Many diners here consider the spring rolls the best in Belgium but if they are succulent, the gourmet riches of this house take you on a culinary journey, stretching from North to South Vietnam and all stops in between.

The restaurant never really closed during the lockdowns as it continued to serve a brisk takeaway service. Now fully reopened, takeaways account for about 30 per cent of the business. Customers can either collect their order or have it delivered to their home/office.

With summer upon us, it’s good to know there is now a terrace seating up to 20 people on the street outside while, at the back, is a pleasant outside area with space for about 30 and open until October.

Inside, the restaurant seats 38 people downstairs and 32 upstairs. There is also a great value-for-money, two course, lunch menu, costing just €13, which is particularly popular.

The a la carte choice is huge and features a range of meat,fish and poultry dishes – all are fabulous and very tasty. There’s also a great drinks and wine list and look out too for a lovely suggestions menu which changes weekly.

The charming and very welcoming Katia has come a very long way since she first set foot in Belgium. For a restaurant still to be thriving 35 years after it opened is a massive achievement, particularly in this “post-pandemic” era but for that same place to have been under the same ownership all that time is quite remarkable… which, actually, also very accurately describes both the cuisine and service here.

Happy 35th birthday L’Orchidee Blanche!

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