Tuesday 20 February 2018

Belgian king leads tributes to victims on anniversary of suicide attacks

Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attended the anniversary service (AP)
Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attended the anniversary service (AP)
Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attend the service in Brussels (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
A Brussels Airport worker lays flowers at a memorial marking the one-year anniversary (AP)

Belgium's King Philippe has urged citizens to "be tender" to each other after the "deadly madness" that led three bombers to kill 32 people at Brussels airport and subway a year ago.

Marking the anniversary of the suicide attacks, in which more than 300 people were injured, the King paid tribute to the victims in ceremonies timed with the blasts during the morning rush hour on March 22 2016.

"It's the responsibility of each and every one of us to make our society more humane, and more just. Let's learn to listen to each other again, to respect each other's weaknesses," he said, as a new monument was unveiled to the victims in the Belgian capital's European quarter.

"Above all, let us dare to be tender," he said.

Earlier, at Brussels Zaventem airport, the King and Queen Mathilde joined Prime Minister Charles Michel and government ministers in a minute's silence outside the departure hall where two suicide bombers blew themselves up.

A third man, suspected accomplice Mohamed Abrini, is awaiting trial.

Airport staff, security and rescue personnel watchED as the names of those who died were read out, accompanied by a single cello.

Inside the departure hall, a large wreath lay in a cordoned-off area.

In moving testimony, Lars Waetzmann, who was wounded and whose wife Jennifer died at the airport, told of how he has been plagued by questions, but also warmed by simple gestures since the tragedy.

"What if we had left 10 minutes later? What if we moved a little slower? What if?" he said. "In a split second our world changed."

"On the 22nd of March, 2016, we have seen the worst but also the best of mankind," he said.

Around 900 people now number themselves among the victims to have suffered physical or mental trauma in the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group.

Commemorations also took place at the Maelbeek subway station, where 16 people were killed.

Belgium has remained on its second-highest alert level since the bombings a year ago, meaning that the threat of an attack is possible and likely but not immediate. Soldiers continue to guard key buildings and transport links, and conduct random patrols in public areas.

City Mayor Yvan Mayeur said that "people from Brussels reacted well, citizens showed that we must keep on living, that there is a will to live, and that life must not change, together with our values and way of life. I think that is important".


Press Association

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