Brussels (AFP)

The mayor of the Belgian city of Aalst, a Flemish city located between Ghent and Brussels, announced Sunday the withdrawal by him of UNESCO's World Heritage list of his annual carnival, accused of anti-Semitism.

The controversy arose in March when the mayor of Alost (Aalst in Flemish), Christoph D'Haese, defended a carnival float representing Orthodox Jews with crooked noses, surrounded by rats and perched on sacks of money.

The scene sparked an uproar from the EU and Jewish organizations, with local authorities defending "a ritual of transgression" to make everyone laugh.

The carnival attracts tens of thousands of people to Aalst during the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday, a Catholic celebration.

Christoph D'Haese explained on local media that he had decided to withdraw the carnival from Unesco's list, learning that the organization had planned to do so by mid-December, after the failure of discussions to reach an agreement.

"The citizens of Aalst have suffered grotesque accusations," he denounced in a statement quoted by the agency Belga.

"We are neither anti-Semitic nor racist, all those who support it do so in bad faith, and Aalst will always remain the capital of mockery and satire," he added.

The carnival of Aalst was inscribed since 2010 on the list of intangible heritage of Unesco.

The leaders of Aalst preferred "to jump before being pushed", commented in a statement the head of the Association of Jews of Europe, based in Brussels.

"Despite general criticism, clearly grotesque and anti-Semitic representations (...), the mayor of Aalst has persisted in an attitude of challenge and mockery," denounced the president of the association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin.

© 2019 AFP