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Belgian minister condemns school arson attacks

AP PHOTO

Belgian education minister Caroline Desir has condemned a series of arson attacks on schools in recent days in protest against a new mandatory sex education course, saying the attacks were acts of "extreme brutality".

A total of eight schools have been targets of arson or graffiti against the Education in Relational, Affective and Sexual Life (EVRAS) program, which is based on a 300-page guide which some parents and associations have criticised for its sexual content.

"They are attacking our teaching, our freedom of education. These are acts of extreme barbarity, these are acts of terrorism," Desir told Belgian broadcaster RTBF on Friday while visiting a targeted school near the southern city of Charleroi.

"EVRAS is there to protect children, not to harm them. It is a public health system," Desir said.

More than 100,000 pupils as young as 11 years old in the Brussels and Walloon regions have already started taking part in EVRAS-related classes.

The government is investigating the attacks but said it would not give details for security reasons.

The anti-EVRAS movement plans a protest in Brussels on Sunday.

The EVRAS program is a required four hours of training for students aged 11 to 12 and 15 to 16, intended to help them develop their relational and sexual lives.

The program had been around and available for all age groups for years but was not compulsory until now.

"I would like to call on everyone to calm down and try once again to cut through the lies circulating about the EVRAS system," Desir said.

"No, it does not prepare a pedophile system. No, it doesn't plan to make children want to change gender. No, it doesn't plan to teach children how to engage in sexual activities."

Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden on Friday also called for a halt to the attacks on schools.

"We don't touch our schools," Verlinden said during a news conference with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

"It's a red line."

Several Muslim groups have also condemned the program in a joint statement, fearing it will favour "hypersexualisation" of children.

with AP