Belgian climate minister denounces protest marches as plot

Thousands of youngsters march during a climate change protest in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Thousands of teenagers in Belgium have skipped school for the fourth week in a row in an attempt to push authorities into providing better protection for the world's climate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS - The fate of a Belgian environment minister is in the balance after she said that massive climate demonstrations in Belgium over the past weeks were a plot against her and that she had state security confirmation.

Though regional environment minister Joke Schauvliege said Tuesday she in fact had no such information from state security services, she did not offer to step down over her remarks.

"I said something that was not correct," Schauvliege said, but insisted it did not amount to lying.

The opposition said it was outrageous to lie and abuse the name of the state security organization for personal purposes and also said she sought to discredit a just cause that is widely shared in the nation.

Schauvliege's Christian Democrat CD&V party said it would assess whether she would have to resign. "We will have internal talks about this," said party leader Wouter Beke.

Over the past two months, tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the country for better climate protections and have often targeted Schauvliege's policies, which they consider woefully insufficient and inefficient.

At first she welcomed the marches, but over the weekend, she said "a lot of people in these marches don't realize that they are part of a system which is a setup." She added that "state security has told me about this."

In her apology she said she overreacted because of social media criticism and lack of sleep.

Anuna De Wever, the 17-year-old driving force behind the Thursday student protests that gathered up to 30,000 demonstrators, said she was dumbfounded when she heard it. "At first, I had to laugh really hard," she told VRT network, denying she was a pawn in a plot against the minister.

A new march of schoolchildren is set for Thursday. Two weeks ago, 70,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Brussels for the biggest march up to now.

Schauvliege is the environment minister for northern Belgium's Flanders, the biggest, most populous and richest area of Belgium.

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This story has been corrected to show that the first name of the 17-year-old protest organizer is Anuna, not Aruna.


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