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Belgium Blasted for Woman’s Death

September 23, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Belgium’s interior minister came under severe criticism Wednesday after a Nigerian woman died following a struggle with police trying to deport her. Two policemen were charged with assault.

A few dozen demonstrators forced their way into the Belgian senate, shouting that Interior Minister Louis Tobback was a ``murderer″ and demanding his resignation. Tobback said he would consider stepping down only if it was proven the police force made errors.

``I will take full responsibility for what occurred,″ he said. ``What will happen over the coming days, I will decide for myself.″

The government and judicial authorities are investigating Tuesday’s incident at Brussels international airport. As Semira Adamu resisted efforts to strap her into a seat on a Togo-bound plane, police subdued her by putting a pillow on her face.

As passengers looked on, the 20-year-old Adamu struggled and lapsed into a coma. She was taken to hospital where she died hours later of a brain hemorrhage.

Adamu resisted returning to Nigeria because she claimed her family was forcing her to marry a 65-year-old man who already has three wives. Belgium argued that was not sufficient to grant her refugee status.

Police had tried to deport Adamu six times.

Politicians from the ruling center-left coalition and the opposition called for reform of asylum procedures and many expressed outrage that the use of a pillow to subdue recalcitrant asylum seekers was standard practice.

``The asylum policy has to be humane,″ said Senator Bert Anciaux, chairman of the opposition ID21 party.

Judicial authorities interrogated three policemen who were involved in the deportation attempt and charged two with assault and battery without the intent to kill. They were detained for several hours and then released.

At a news conference, Tobback said he regretted the incident but insisted the police had acted legally in expelling Adamu, who had exhausted her court appeals.

Nevertheless, he said, ``What happened is one of the blackest days in my political career.

The human rights group Amnesty International condemned the asylum laws.

``The death of Semira is part of a series of complaints and is the results of several new laws to get asylum in Belgium,″ said AI spokeswoman Joelle Noel.

Some 4,000 people whose asylum requests were turned down by the Belgian authorities were repatriated last year. Some 300 needed police escorts.

Update hourly