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Conner Rousseau, leader of the Flemish Socialist Party: Drunk racist remarks, sober apologies

Conner Rousseau, leader of the Flemish Socialist Party, has officially apologised for his racist remarks. The politician insists his comments were a joke and he was drunk, according to POLITICO.

However, a number of Belgian public officials condemned the Socialist leader for his offensive remarks and criticised his apology as unconvincing.

In September, Rousseau was thrust into the spotlight after it was reported that he made racist and xenophobic remarks while interacting with police officers at a festival in the Flemish town of Sint-Niklaas.

At a press conference on Thursday, Rousseau said he regretted the “insulting statement” he made to the Roma community. As reported by multiple local outlets, Rousseau said:

 “It’s not consistent with who I am. My volunteer work, the person I am, my political commitment … weighs much more than one sad, clumsy moment.”

Rousseau assured that he was “in a drunken state” and said things he “would never have said sober.”

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incident, but Rousseau said there was no “element of intent” in his remarks, so he cannot be prosecuted for racism. He said:

“You have to want to hurt and offend someone. You really have to speak intentionally about a group. I really don’t think that’s the case. Also the state I was in. You really can’t value what was said there then.”

However, Belgian public figures, including Rousseau’s coalition partners, are keeping an eye on him: members of the Flemish CD&V party, the French-speaking socialists PS, Ecolo and others, among others, have criticised him.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on social media that “racism after excuses remains racism.” Nadia Naji, president of the Flemish Greens and another coalition partner of Rousseau, said:

“Racism is racism. There are no extenuating circumstances for this.”

Senior members of Rousseau’s own party have so far refrained from condemning him, despite criticism from coalition parties.

This is not the first time Rousseau has been in the spotlight for his behaviour. Earlier this year, prosecutors dropped sexual assault charges against him. Last year, he was criticised for making controversial remarks about the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek (Rousseau said he didn’t feel like he was in Belgium when he drove through the area), which many considered racist.

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