Killing Leaves Belgium Concerned About Rise of Racist Violence

First, the gunman shot and wounded a woman of Turkish descent. Then he turned his rifle on a black woman from Mali and the 2-year-old white girl in her care, killing both.

The assailant, police say, was a teenager who shot anyone whose skin color he didn't like in a spree that sparked nationwide concern about growing racist violence in Belgium.

Hundreds of protesters filed silently through the northern port city of Antwerp early Friday, a day after the black-clad 18-year-old with a shaved head and armed with a newly bought rifle walked through the narrow, cobblestoned streets around Antwerp's Gothic cathedral and opened fire.

Police shot and wounded the gunman.

"Africans have gone through enough. Now they are shot simply because they are dark," said Ngounda Demba, a relative of the slain baby-sitter who was among the demonstrators on Friday.

The identities of the teenager and his victims have not been released.

The gunman was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder on Friday while recovering in hospital. He was interrogated there by police.

"If he hadn't been stopped, there would have been more victims," said Dominique Reyniers of the Antwerp prosecutor's office.

"The suspect said that after buying a hunting rifle and ammunition, he purposely sought out people of foreign origin with the purpose to shoot them down," Reyniers said.

Members of the assailant's family belonged to a right-wing party with an anti-foreigner platform. He had been evicted from his boarding school days earlier for smoking, and had written a farewell letter there.

Suzanne Goverder described what she witnessed Thursday seconds after she heard a shot.

"I heard a child twice asking 'What's happening?'. Then she started crying and she yelled 'mama' and then a second shot. And at that moment I realized that something was very wrong," Goverder said.

Violence against non-Caucasians has been on the rise in Belgium since a white youth was slain last month for an MP3 player. The killers were at first said to be North Africans before police arrested two Polish suspects.

Since that killing, incidents with racist undertones have been highlighted in the media.

Closed-circuit television pictures showed a black man being kicked and beaten outside a gasoline station in Brussels because he was slow to move his car away from the gas pump. The victim was left partly blind and paralyzed.

A man of African descent was beaten into a coma outside a bar frequented by the extreme right, and three skinheads were arrested in connection with the attack. There was also a suspicious fire at a home where people of African descent live.

"Everyone in our country has to realize what a climate of intolerance can lead to," Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said.

Antwerp, some 30 miles from Brussels, has long been a hotbed of the extreme right. The Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang) party, which has an anti-foreigner program, has become the largest party in the city over the past decade.

Party spokesman Philippe Van der Sander said some of the teenage gunman's family are party members.

"But [he] himself had never attended any meeting of the party, was never a member," he said.

The party condemned the killings.

"Our party is shocked by the events, for which there can be no excuse," Chairman Frank Vanhecke said. "We demand the heaviest possible penalty for the murderer."

The killings in a municipal election year turned the focus on Antwerp, where the Flemish Interest party is seeking to gain power in October.

"It cannot get any worse," Antwerp's socialist Mayor Patrick Janssens said. "It cannot be fathomed that this happens in clear daylight in Antwerp."

Anti-racism groups were already trying to link the attacks to the election and called for a special march to remember the victims.

"These crimes show, as if it was still necessary, that racist ideas still kill in Belgium. A few month from the elections, let us show that the extreme right will be stopped," said Gilbert Chabrillat of the Jewish Student Union.