Sophie Wilmès: Belgian foreign minister formally resigns to care for ill husband

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Sophie Wilmès: Belgian foreign minister formally resigns to care for ill husband

Belgium's foreign minister and deputy prime minister Sophie Wilmès has formally resigned to care for her ill husband.

Wilmès confirmed on Thursday that she would be stepping down from her roles after her husband -- former Australian footballer Christopher Stone -- was diagnosed with "aggressive brain cancer".

The 47-year-old had temporarily stepped away from her role in the Belgian government in April.

Since her departure, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has assumed the responsibilities of foreign minister, but her formal resignation now opens the door to a cabinet reshuffle.

"My husband's illness will be a difficult battle that I want to fight alongside him and alongside our children," Wilmès wrote in a statement.

"My current duties in government would not allow me to do so," she said, adding that she would continue as an MP for the liberal Mouvement Réformateur.

Wilmès was Belgium’s first female prime minister from 2019 to 2020, before becoming foreign minister.

"Our government is losing a great lady," De Croo said on Thursday evening, hailing Wilmès' "courageous choice".

"It is a choice that is worthy of the person she is, sincere. It is a choice that makes us all reflect on the meaning of life and reminds us of her priorities," he added.

Former TV host becomes new foreign minister

On Friday, the liberal party announced that former television news presenter Hadja Lahbib was chosen to replace Wilmes as foreign minister.

The 52-year-old political novice was sworn in by King Philippe and has officially taken up the position.

Lahbib comes from a family of Algerian origin and is a well-known figure at the French-speaking radio and television station RTBF. She also worked as a special correspondent in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"From today I will have the honour of being the face of Belgium abroad," Hadja Lahbib told reporters.

She added that she was surprised to have been asked to join the government as foreign minister, especially during the Ukraine war.

"There are phone calls that take you into another dimension, I was a bit shocked," she said, according to the Belga news agency.

"I am aware of the immense challenges with which our world and our democracies are confronted," Lahbib said on Twitter.

"I take up my duties as Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs with humility and driven by a strong sense of responsibility."

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