Europe vows to defend democracy with EU capital 'under attack'

22nd March 2016, Comments 0 comments

European countries on Tuesday vowed to defend democracy against terrorism after blasts struck the heart of the European Union's capital.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel described Tuesday as "a day of tragedy, a black day," while EU president Donald Tusk lashed out at "another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence."

Around Europe, national leaders pledged support for Belgium and many characterised the attacks as an assault on the keystone of European peace and democracy.

After two explosions ripped through Brussels airport, a third struck a metro train just a few hundred metres (yards) from the European Commission, Council and Parliament -- the main institutions of the 28-nation EU.

Around 35 people were killed and more than 200 injured. The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the carnage.

- 'Nous sommes tous Bruxellois' -

"Our Union's capital is under attack. We mourn the dead and pledge to conquer terror through democracy," the Greek foreign ministry said in a tweet.

It added in French, "Nous sommes tous Bruxellois," -- "We are all citizens of Brussels."

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: "Terrorism will never defeat us. The union of democrats in Europe will always prevail over barbarism and madness."

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was to be lit up in the colours of Belgium on Tuesday night in homage to "the victims, their families and the Belgian people," said city mayor Anne Hidalgo.

"The whole of Europe has been hit," French President Francois Hollande declared, urging the continent to take "vital steps in the face of the seriousness of the threat."

"At this difficult hour, Europe stands up, together and as one. Belgium is not alone," German Foreign Frank-Walter Steinmeier said while British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged: "We will never let these terrorists win."

-- 'Outrageous' attacks -

Outside Europe, the United States urged a joint front "regardless of nationality or race or faith" in fighting terrorism, while Russia and Turkey -- themselves bloodied in recent attacks -- said the blasts rammed home the need to combat terrorism of every hue and across all borders.

President Barack Obama condemned the attacks as "outrageous."

"We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world," Obama said, speaking in the Cuban capital Havana.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at what he called "barbarous crimes" and expressed condolence.

"(They) demonstrate once again that terrorism has no borders and threatens people around the world. Fighting this evil calls for the most active international cooperation."

A Russian plane was downed by a bomb over the Sinai Peninsula in October that killed 224 people, while Turkey has suffered more than 200 civilian deaths in six major attacks since July, blamed on Kurdish rebels and jihadists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attacks as "inhuman" and drew a moral parallel between terrorists who struck the EU's institutional capital and Turkey's major cities.

"The terrorists who targeted Brussels, after attacks recently by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) in Ankara and Daesh in Istanbul that cost dozens of lives, are showing once again that they respect no value nor any human and moral limit," Erdogan said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group.

- Attacks un-Islamic: clerics -

In the Vatican, Pope Francis described the attacks as "blind violence, which causes so much suffering."

"Imploring the gift of peace from God, (the pontiff) invokes divine blessings on the bereaved families and the Belgian people," he said in a message to Jozef De Kesel, the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

In Cairo, Sunni Islam's leading seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said the blasts "violate the tolerant teachings of Islam" and urged the international community to confront the "epidemic" of terrorism.

The shockwave of the attacks also reverberated in the US presidential campaign, where Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said the cause of the bloodshed was "no assimilation" by immigrants.

"Belgium is not the Belgium you and I knew from 20 years ago, which was one of the most beautiful and safest cities in the world," Trump told NBC.

"Belgium is a horror show right now. Terrible things are happening. People are leaving. People are afraid. This all happened because, frankly, there's no assimilation."

© 2016 AFP

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