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A minute’s silence held for victims of Brussels terror attack as Portuguese State Visit to Belgium begins

The President of Portugal joined the King and Queen of the Belgians in a minute’s silence for the victims of a terror attack that took place just hours before the official start of his State Visit to Belgium.

Two Swedish football fans were killed when a gunman opened fire in Brussels on the evening of October 16th 2023.

The terror attack led to the security threat level in the Belgian capital being raised to its highest level and changes to the State Visit were made accordingly. Belgian media reported that President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was already in Brussels when the attack happened, and that at the time he was having an informal dinner with King Philippe. 

The reaction of the Belgian King and Queen was almost immediate, with a tweet coming out shortly after the news broke reading: “We are shocked by tonight’s shooting in our capital. Our thoughts are first and foremost with the victims, their families and loved ones. We support the security forces who are currently doing their utmost to track down the perpetrator”. 

As the State Visit was due to begin, on the morning of October 17th 2023, it became clear that some adjustments to the programme needed to be made: all outdoors events were cancelled, and the Visit would still take place, but on a reduced scale. 

This meant that no official welcome ceremony took place on the court of the Brussels Royal Palace, nor there was the traditional homage at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All indoors events have remained unaltered so far. 

So the visit began with a short welcome ceremony inside the Palace, where the King and Queen welcomed the President on the steps of the Royal Palace and later posed with him for a photograph. This was followed by bilateral meetings, which were concluded by remarks on the importance of European cooperation “to preserve our common values”. 

In the afternoon, the Belgian Royal Palace revealed that King Philippe had held a call with King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, as the two victims of the shooting were two Swedish nationals that had arrived in Brussels as the two countries took part in a qualifier for the Euro 2024 football tournament. 

The next event involving the royals was the traditional State Banquet, which was opened by a minute of silence to commemorate the victims of the attack, which was also a focal point of the opening of King Philippe’s speech at the banquet. 

His Majesty said: “We are reunited tonight in our willingness to show ourselves united around our democratic values, which we will continue to defend. Our two nations, which have sealed their destiny within the European Union, know, each through its own history, the meaning of the word ‘democracy’”. 

On October 17th 2023, Belgian police revealed that they found the suspected gunman who was shot and later died of his injuries.

The rest of the three day State Visit – trips to Saint-Gilles and Namour, where President Rebelo de Sousa is scheduled to meet the Portuguese community in Belgium – are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned.

The security threat level was lowered in Brussels on October 18th 2023.