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Belgian Interior Minister Resigns

September 26, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Belgium’s interior minister resigned Saturday over the death of a Nigerian woman who died after police tried to subdue her during her deportation, the Belgian national news agency reported.

Louis Tobback would be the second interior minister to resign this year in the wake of a police scandal.

A spokesman for the interior ministry could not immediately confirm Belga’s report that Louis Tobback was stepping down from office, saying he is still waiting for formal notification from his superiors.

The Socialist minister, who is also vice-premier, had announced his plans to resign on Friday but was asked by the center-left coalition government to reconsider his decision until Saturday.

Tobback’s decision came after he learned that one of the two policemen who had tried to subdue Semira Adamu had already been punished by the police force last year for repeatedly kicking an asylum seeker.

Adamu, 20, died in a Brussels hospital last Tuesday from a brain hemorrhage, hours after police had stuffed a pillow over her mouth to restrain her on an airliner headed for Togo in West Africa.

Her death caused a public outcry over Belgium’s asylum policy and plunged the government into crisis.

Earlier, thousands of people gathered at Saint Michel cathedral in Brussels for a religious ceremony in memory of Adamu.

Around 5,000 Belgians and Africans attended the two-hour service, which included Christian and Muslim rites.

The cathedral was packed long before the ceremony began, and thousands of onlookers stood outside to witness the arrival of Adamu’s white coffin. Loudspeakers were placed outside for people to hear the service.

At the end of the service, hundreds of people followed the car carrying Adamu’s coffin through Brussels. They dispersed outside the hospital morgue where Adamu’s remains are being held as part of the judicial inquiry.

No date has yet been fixed for Adamu’s funeral. It’s unclear whether her remains will be flown back to Nigeria or buried in Belgium.

Late Saturday, the police department issued a public apology for Adamu’s tragic death. ``We are really sorry,″ said police spokeswoman Els Cleemput. She said it was up to the judicial authorities to determine who was to blame for Adamu’s death.

``As for an internal investigation, we cannot decide to open one until we have all the evidence in hand. Some of the evidence, including a videotaped recording of what happened on the flight, is still in the hands of the judiciary,″ she said.

Tobback’s resignation Saturday is the second time in five months a Belgian interior minister has resigned. His predecessor, Johan Vande Lanotte, stepped down after Marc Dutroux, the key suspect in a pedophile case, briefly escaped.

Gino Russo, who has campaigned for human rights since his eight-year-old daughter Melissa starved to death in a basement cell beneath Dutroux’s house, also attended Saturday’s ceremony.

``She is a young woman who was legally murdered,″ he said. ``Like so many laws in this country, the law on asylum seekers is a bad one,″ he added.

Adamu had resisted deportation five previous times. 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.

On Friday, the World Organization Against Torture, a coalition of human rights organizations, called in Geneva on Belgium to abolish the practice of using pillows to subdue deportees which it denounced as inhuman.

Cleemput said the practice was used twice last year. But she said resistance from deportees increased this year and the police have used the practice a dozen times already.

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