Two people have been arrested in Belgium on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels on New Year’s Eve.
Raids took place on December 27 and December 28 in Brussels and the provinces of Flemish Brabant and Liege.
Police seized military clothing and computer equipment in the raids, but no weapons or explosives.
Belgium has been on high alert since the attacks of November 13 in Paris. Several of the perpetrators are thought to have been based in Belgium.
However, the latest arrests are not linked to the Paris attacks, prosecutors say.
One of those arrested is suspected of leading and recruiting for a terrorist cell.
The suspects are accused of planning attacks against several “symbolic targets” in Brussels, as well as on the police, according to the Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
Propaganda for ISIS was among the materials seized.
Another four people were questioned in the raids and released without charge.
In November, Brussels was placed under a four-day lockdown closing universities, schools and the metro system, amid fears of a Paris-style attack.
The presumed ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was a Belgian national who had travelled to fight in Syria.
Police in Belgium and beyond have been hunting Salah Abdeslam, a French national who was born in Brussels, in connection with the attacks. His brother Brahim blew himself up during the attacks, investigators say.
Belgium has struggled to contain Islamist militancy in recent years – more Belgians have gone to fight for ISIS than any other European country, per capita.
Greece has failed to reach an agreement with eurozone officials over the country’s debt crisis, though both sides said there was still hope for a deal.
Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said seven hours of talks in Brussels had been “constructive”.
They ended without a joint statement to outline procedural steps ahead of further talks on February 16.
Greece says its bailout deal with the EU is punitive and must end. The EU has warned Greece to abide by the deal.
Greek left-wing government says the conditions of the €240 billion ($272 billion) bailout have impoverished Greece.
It was elected on a promise to end the bailout and ease the austerity measures that have accompanied it.
The government has proposed to overhaul 30% of its bailout obligations, replacing them with a 10-point plan of reforms.
However, Greece’s creditors in the EU, led by Germany, have insisted that the terms of the bailout cannot be altered.
Officials from the two sides have been locked in negotiations aimed at reaching a deal on Greece’s debt repayments that would stave off the prospect of its exit from the eurozone – a prospect viewed with fear by the markets.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the Eurogroup eurozone finance ministers, said after the meeting on Wednesday that there had been no discussion of detailed proposals.
“We didn’t enter into negotiations on content of the program or a program, we simply tried to work next steps over the next couple days,” he said.
“We were unable to do that.”
“We had an intense discussion, constructive, covering a lot of ground, also making progress, but not enough progress yet to come to joint conclusions,” he said.
Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis struck an upbeat note, saying hours of emergency talks in Brussels had produced “very good discussions”.
Greek officials had rejected a draft agreement from the eurozone finance ministers that proposed “extending” the current bailout deal, Reuters reported.
The current EU-IMF bailout for Greece is due to expire on February 28.
The Greek government rejects the “troika” team – the EU, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) – overseeing the bailout’s implementation.
It is asking for a “bridge agreement” that will enable it to stay afloat until it can agree a new four-year reform plan with its EU creditors.
Greece’s debt currently stands at more than €320 billion – about 174% of its economic output (GDP).
On February 11, thousands of left-wing demonstrators rallied in Athens in support of their government’s proposition.
The stakes of the talks over Greece’s debt are high because of fears that a Greek default could push it out of the euro, triggering turmoil in the EU.
The Greek Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, previously said Greece might seek funding from Russia, China or the US if it failed to reach a new debt agreement with the eurozone.
The laptop of outgoing Belgian PM Elio Di Rupo has been stolen after a thief broke into his car in Brussels.
The theft took place on August 18 while PM Elio Di Rupo was at the gym, but details have only just emerged.
Elio Di Rupo’s spokesman has denied reports that the laptop contained state secrets and sensitive details about the royal family.
The theft primarily involved “personal notes and some work documents”, the spokesman said.
The thief saw his chance when Elio Di Rupo’s driver popped into a bookshop while the prime minister was in the gym in the centre of Brussels, Dutch-language daily Het Laatste Nieuws reported on August 21.
Elio Di Rupo’s laptop has been stolen after a thief broke into his car in Brussels
He smashed a side window in the Audi A6, folded the back seat and found the laptop in the boot of the car.
PM Elio Di Rupo made a statement to police soon afterwards in which the newspaper reported he had referred to important details about internal politics and the royal family.
A briefcase, suit, white shirt and mobile phone charger were among other items stolen, the report said.
However, Elio Di Rupo’s spokesman said the theft did not involve classified information or state secrets and the laptop itself was thoroughly protected. Such documents were always transported according to rules and adapted procedures, a statement said.
Brussels police are investigating the theft.
Elio Di Rupo’s computers have received unwanted attention in the past, too. In September 2013, federal prosecutors opened an inquiry into two possible hacking incidents in the prime minister’s office.
A French-speaking Socialist, Elio Di Rupo took on the role of prime minister in 2011 after more than 500 days of political deadlock in which Belgium was left without a government.
Elio Di Rupo submitted his resignation after elections in May this year, but has continued in the role in a caretaker capacity.
Thousands of people have signed a petition against Brussels’ abstract light installation replacing the traditional Christmas tree in the city centre.
More than 11,000 signatures have been gathered in the online petition and a Facebook page attacking the new feature has been launched.
Critics accuse officials of opting for the installation for fear of offending non-Christians, especially Muslims.
But the mayor’s office said it was part of a theme this year of “light”.
Traditionally, a 20 m (65 ft) pine tree taken from the forests of the Ardennes has adorned the city’s central square, the Grand Place.
This year, it has been replaced with a 25 m (82 ft) construction, though smaller real Christmas trees still decorate the square, a spokesman at the mayor’s office said.
The city’s website said the new “tree” was one of five “light” installations around the Grand Place this year, offering visitors the chance to climb to the top and enjoy “beautiful views” of the city.
Tourism councilor Philippe Close at the mayor’s office said the aim was to show off the “avant-garde character” of Brussels by blending the modern and the traditional, to produce something new and different.
Brussels hosts one of the most popular winter markets in Europe and many are worried that the contemporary construction is incongruous with the 17th-Century buildings that surround it.
The light installation has even been nicknamed The Pharmacy by some who say the glowing cubes resemble the green cross symbol you find outside many chemists around the world.
Bianca Debaets, a Brussels councilor from the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, said she believed a “misplaced argument” over religious sensitivities had moved Brussels to put up the light sculpture.
Thousands of people have signed a petition against Brussels’ abstract light installation replacing the traditional Christmas tree in the city centre
“For a lot of people who are not Christians, the tree there is offensive to them,” she told reporters.
Erik Maxwell, from Brussels, said: “We think the tree has been put up for cultural reasons.
“A tree is for Christmas and Christians but now there are a lot of Muslims here in Brussels. So to avoid discussions they have just replaced a tree with a couple of cubes! I am more traditional, I prefer the usual tree. That’s better for the Belgian people.”
A recent estimate in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir suggested Muslims made up 22% of the population of Brussels and its region as of 2010.
Parts of the Belgian press have been keen to suggest that the tree is an example of “political correctness”, designed to be more appealing to non-Christian religious groups than a traditional fir tree.
However, it seems likely that the media storm is influencing public opinion rather than reflecting it.
There was applause and plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” in the square at a preview of the nightly sound-and-light show that will take place there until the New Year.
“What we want is just to modernise the pleasure of winter, of this Christmas market and all the image of Brussels,” said Councillor Philippe Close.
“The Christmas tree is not a religious symbol and actually lots of Muslims have a Christmas tree at home.
“For people who want a traditional religious symbol, we have the nativity scene here in the square. For people who want modernity, we have this new tree.”
Semsettin Ugurlu, chairman of the Belgian Muslim Executive, representing the Muslim community in Belgium, said his organization did not mind any kind of Christmas tree.
“We know we are living in a country with a Christian culture, we take no offence over a traditional Christmas tree,” he said.
Miryam Oostling, a visitor from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, said: “I quite like the tree. It’s a piece of modern art. It’s cosy!”
A flower carpet using designs from Africa has been created on the main square of the Belgian capital, Brussels.
Hundreds of thousands of flowers were used by the 120 volunteers who made the carpet on the Grand Place. The process took almost four hours.
Traditional patterns from Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon and Botswana are displayed in the carpet.
A flower carpet was first installed at the site in 1971 and is re-created every two years.
“The design is very complicated this year because it is very sophisticated,” one of the organizers, Annette Katz, told Reuters.
The carpet will be on show until 19 August.
Traditional patterns from Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon and Botswana are displayed in the 2012 Flower Carpet from Grand Place
The famed flower carpet at Brussels’ Grand Place (Grote Markt) has been unfurled in anticipation of the city’s five-day celebration of floral decorations. The flower carpet has been a part of the Belgian capital city’s traditions since 1971, when the first such carpet, consisting of thousands of begonias, was laid out. Every year since then, in August, over 750,000 flowers (usually begonias) are packed together to form a carpet at the Grand Place.
The flower carpet is spread across almost 20,000 sq ft and is placed right in the center of the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which already draws thousands of tourists independent of the flower attractions.
The charming tradition of creating sophisticated flower carpet designs and vibrant colors is also seen as a celebration of the spirit of horticulture artistry. The techniques involved in the making of this floral tapestry reflect the mastery of hundreds of gardeners and horticulturists. According to the official website of the Grand Place flower carpet, the flowers are tightly packed, to prevent them from being blown away by the wind, but without the use of soil. Moreover, these flowers create their own microclimate.
“The spaces between the floral patterns will already have been filled with rolled turf. In heat waves, the turf has to be watered to prevent it from shrinking, but if the weather is too wet, the grass can grow 4 to 5 centimeters in 3 days,” a statement on the website reads.
Brussels’ Grand Place flower carpets are usually made of begonias because these flowers are known for their sturdiness and ability to survive bad weather. Few other varieties of flowers can retain their freshness to the degree the begonia can, for five days at a stretch. Given the fact that Belgium cultivates 60 million begonia tubers every year and is recognized as the world’s largest producer, the flower carpets in Brussels has also become a means to promote the begonia.
[googlead tip=”vertical_mic”]Two stages of the Belgian music festival Pukkelpop 2011 have collapsed after a sudden storm and at least 3 people died.
The victims were all attending Pukkelpop 2011 festival near the town Hasselt, east of Brussels, when the storm struck, bringing the stages down.
Hilde Claes, the mayor of the town of Hasselt, where Pukkelpop festival is held each year, confirmed two of the deaths earlier this evening, but reports emerging from Belgium have said that at least 3 festival-goers have been killed. The mayor also said those injured are taken to several nearby hospitals. Some of those lightly injured were being treated at a local sports complex.
Two stages of the Belgian music festival Pukkelpop 2011 have collapsed after a sudden storm and at least 3 people died
More than 70 people have been injured, according to another official.[googlead tip=”patrat_mediu” aliniat=”dreapta”]
Hugo Simons, Hasselt’s head of emergency planning, told VRT radio that 11 people were severely injured while 60 have light injuries as a result of the storm.
More than 20 ambulances were dispatched to the Pukkelpop ground.
“We have for now put the festival on hold until we understand the situation completely.”
Earlier reports of the Belgian media said four people had been killed.
The stages were destroyed by falling trees during severe storms.
3 deaths and 71 people injured after stage collapsed at Pukkelpop festival in Belgium
[googlead tip=”lista_medie” aliniat=”stanga”]The situation is still unclear at Pukkelpop festival’s location, about 75 km east of Belgium capital, Brussels.
According to NME, the rest of the night’s schedule will more-than-likely be called off. Rap star Eminem is due to headline the concert tomorrow night.
Jared Leto, lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars, was due to headline on the collapsed stage later tonight. He has just tweeted:
”Serious injuries at the festival. More bad weather poss heading this way. Please take care and caution!”
Local TV footage from the scene, showed fallen stage rigging and people scrambling for cover and rain-soaked festival attendees bracing against strong winds. Fallen gantries and rigging could be seen on the ground.
Belgian media reported that trees were uprooted by the violent storm and smashed into the stage, bringing it down.
Some festival-goers said on the Twitter website that a tornado had struck.
According to BBC, the storms swept across Belgium in the early evening, turning the sky dark.
About 60,000 people were believed to attend the three-day Pukkelpop music festival, one of Europe’s largest outdoor festivals.
This evening, Pukkelpop organizers posted on the festival website:
“The Pukkelpop organisation has decided to cancel all shows tonight out of respect for the victims. We want to make our hearts and our minds silent for the festival goers that we lost and the ones that were injured.”
Last week, 5 people were killed at Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, US, when a stage collapsed in high winds.