Belgian transport minister resigns amid airport security scandal

Belgian Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant resigned Friday following revelations that EU authorities had warned Belgium of "serious deficiencies" in its airport security, including at the Brussels hub that was attacked by terrorists last month.

The revelations were contained in confidential reports from the European Commission that were released on Wednesday by opposition Green parties.

The most recent one, dated 2015, found that Belgian airports were "not compliant" in several security areas, with some deficiencies found to be serious. Green politicians accused Galant of not acting on the reports and of rejecting requests to bolster airport security.

The minister submitted her resignation on Friday morning, but was defiant at a later press conference.

"The orchestrated and theatrical chaos of the last 48 hours makes it impossible for me to continue with serenity the completion of my files," she told journalists.

Galant rejected accusations that she had been lax on security issues and lashed out at the former president of her ministry's executive committee, Laurent Ledoux.

He had resigned Wednesday, criticizing Galant's handling of the airport file and accusing the minister of having an attitude "worthy of the Gestapo," the Nazi-era police, according to Belgian media.

Galant accused Ledoux of having carried out a "media crusade" against her and of "surfing on the current climate of anxiety which is marked still by the terrible attacks of March 22."

Her resignation was nevertheless accepted on Friday by both Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe.

The Michel government has come under pressure for alleged security lapses prior to the terrorist attacks, which left more than 30 people dead at the Brussels airport and an underground railway station in the Belgian capital.

The commission, the European Union's executive, carried out 14 airport inspections in Belgium between 2004 and 2014 as part of regular security assessments at airports in all of the bloc's member states, spokesman Jakub Adamowicz said on Friday.

He declined to comment on any specifics of the inspections, which are meant to check compliance with common aviation safety standards. He said that providing more information would compromise security.

But Adamowicz added that a mechanism is in place to rectify any deficiencies found in Europe's approximately 800 airports, which he argued have the "highest safety standards in the world."

The inspections so far largely focused on areas accessible only to passengers who have passed through security checks - known as the airside part - to prevent weapons from being smuggled onto airplanes, Adamowicz said.

But the March 22 attacks at the Brussels airport took place on the so-called landside part, in a departure hall accessible to all.

Possible improvements to landside security were discussed Friday during an informal meeting of EU transport ministers in Amsterdam and will be taken up by them again at talks in Luxembourg on June 7, Adamowicz said.

Last update: Fri, 15/04/2016 - 16:48

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