BRUSSELS (AFP) – Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center called Tuesday for Belgium's justice minister to be sacked over controversial remarks he made about World War II Nazi collaborators.
Stefan De Clerck has come under fire for calling for an "adult" debate in Belgium about granting amnesty to wartime Nazi sympathisers and "maybe also forget, because this is in the past" -- a divisive chapter in the already divided country's history.
The Wiesenthal center sent a letter to Belgian caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme asking him to bring together Flemish and French-speaking parties to probe and condemn De Clerck "for his apparent betrayal of history, his obfuscation of its lessons and his contempt for the very concept of justice."
Shimon Samuels, the center's director for international relations, said "such an appointee must be promptly removed from his ministry, his party and shunned from the political arena."
"To remain silent would be perceived as complicit in De Clerk's apparent endorsement of genocide," Samuels said.
De Clerck, a Flemish Christian Democrat, said Monday that his remarks had been misinterpreted, insisting that "we can never forget or downplay the facts.
"We must, however, be able to give a correct interpretation of what happened and address it in a reasonable manner."
His comments fed into an already tense atmosphere between Flemish and French-speaking politicians. French Socialist Elio di Rupo was given the seemingly impossible task by the king late Monday to form a new government bridging the nation's language divide after almost a year of failed coalition talks.
Bart de Wever, leader of the top vote-getter in Flanders, the nationalist N-VA party, angered francophones last year when he accused them of historical amnesia over wartime collaboration within their own ranks.
Many people in Flanders believe that the purge that followed the liberation of Belgium mainly targeted Flemish collaborators while prosecutions were rarer in Wallonia.
In a 30 to 26 vote last week, the Belgian Senate accepted draft legislation from the far-right Flemish Vlaams Belang party that would grant amnesty to those who collaborated with the Nazis during the war.