In Brief

Belgian government on brink of collapse over Sudan

Coalition partner threatens to withdraw after minister accused of colluding to repatriate political opponents

Belgium’s coalition government is facing collapse over a scandal involving the forced repatriation of Sudanese migrants.

Asylum and migration minister Theo Francken is under investigation for allegely letting Sudanese officials inspect the documents of asylum seekers being returned to Sudan, supposedly allowing Omar al-Bashir’s regime to hand-pick political opponents for repatriation.

Bashir, who has been in power since 1989 following a military coup, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some of the asylum seekers sent back to his country were subsequently tortured, says The Washington Post.

Francken is a leading member of Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), a Flemish nationalist party within the ruling coalition, which has warned it may withdraw support for the government because he is being investigated, The Guardian reports. 

His threat drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Charles Michel, who insisted he would not be intimidated by “blackmail or threats”. However, he also said that whatever the result of the inquiry, Francken’s position was safe, prompting a furious backlash from opposition Socialists and accusations he was being held hostage by the N-VA.

Belgium’s notoriously complicated political make-up, split between Flemish and Francophone parties, makes its governments among the most unstable in Europe. In 2014, the country was without a ruling administration for 138 days as Michel thrashed out a coalition agreement.

Carl Devos, a political commentator from the University of Ghent, told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that this put the PM in an impossible position.

“Michel knows that Theo Francken is untouchable,” he said. “He knows that if he had to ask his secretary of state to resign, it would simply signal the end of his government, which would be a resounding failure for him.”

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