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The diplomatic crisis between Spain and Flanders over Catalonia has burst into the Flemish Parliament this afternoon, with a strong stance being taken against the existence of political prisoners in Spain. A number of those who spoke even put on yellow loops, the symbol of support for the Catalan political prisoners and exiles. The Parliament defended the "freedom of expression" of its speaker, Jan Peumans, and described Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell's decision to revoke the diplomatic status of the Flemish delegate to Madrid as "disproportionate".

During today's debate, the Flemish minister-president, Geert Bourgeois, explained the "serious diplomatic incident" with Spain. "In this Parliament there is unanimity, from the right and the left, to say that Spain's decision is disproportionate", Bourgeouis said in comments to the press after the debate. "The Parliament has asked me to recall that there's freedom of expression in this country, for the president of the Parliament too," he added.

Bourgeois reminded Spain that "Belgium is a federal state where Flanders also has diplomatic status" and expressed confidence that the crisis can be resolved through "dialogue".

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The minister-president of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois, after today's debate

The positions of the parliamentary groups have been emphatic. N-VA deputy Jan van Esbroek, representing the majority group, accused Spain during his speech of violating freedom of expression. "What's happening in Spain has very little to do with the rule of law. It's restricting freedom of expression and that worries me", he said, alluding to the Spanish criticisms of the speaker.

Rik Daems (Open Vld) made similar comments, describing the Spanish position as "unacceptable". "It's unacceptable to refuse diplomatic status to the representative of the Flemish government in Madrid because a deputy gives his opinion [of Catalonia]," he said.

For his part, Ward Kennes (CD&V) called openly for the release of the political prisoners and criticised the police repression of last year's independence referendum. "Our party condemns the excessive violence that the Spanish authorities used against the Catalan public. Elected politicians have to be in the Parliament and not in prison," he said.