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Separatist party wins big in Belgian election

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100613/ap_on_re_eu/eu_belgium_elections Separatist party wins big in Belgian election Robert Wielaard, Associated Press Writer –
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 13, 2010
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      Separatist party wins big in Belgian election
      Robert Wielaard, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 39 mins ago

      BRUSSELS – A separatist party that advocates independence for the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, leaving the country's Francophones to fend for themselves, was scoring a big victory in in the country's general election on Sunday.

      With two-thirds of the votes counted, the Interior Ministry predicted the Dutch-speaking New Flemish Alliance — a fringe factor until now — would take 31 of the 150 legislative seats, a gain of 23, and push the long-dominant Christian Democrats into second place.

      The Alliance drew votes away from Premier Yves Leterme's outgoing coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists — all split into Dutch- and French-speaking factions — whose three years in office were marked by enduring linguistic spats that remained unresolved.

      Belgium's two largest regions are Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. In Belgium just about everything — from political parties to broadcasters to boy scouts and voting ballots — already comes in Dutch- and French-speaking versions. Even charities such as the Red Cross and Amnesty International have separate chapters.

      The election outcome was seen in Flanders as a warning to Francophone politicians to negotiate seriously about granting Dutch- and French-speakers more self-rule, or Flanders will bolt.

      With votes still coming in, Bart De Wever, 39, leader of the New Flemish Alliance, urged "Francophones to make (a country) that works. If we don't, we slide backward."

      His party seeks an orderly breakup of Belgium, accusing Francophone Wallonia, Belgium's poorer half, of bad governance that has raised the jobless rate to double that of Flanders.

      If he becomes premier of Belgium, a country of 6.5 million Dutch- and 4 million French-speakers, De Wever will have to head a coalition government which will force him to tone down his independence talk and negotiate for more regional self rule within Belgium.

      These talks have been stalemated for years. On Sunday, the reaction from French-speakers to the rise of an independence-minded party in Flanders was cautious.

      "We have to wait and see if the New Flemish alliance can" reconcile Dutch- and French-speakers," said Laurette Onkelinx, a senior member of the Walloon socialists.

      Finance Minister Didier Reynders, a Francophone Liberal, said government formation talks will be "difficult."

      Flanders and Wallonia already have autonomy in urban development, environment, agriculture, employment, energy, culture, sports and other areas. Flemish parties want to add justice, health and social security to that. Walloon politicians fear that ending social security as a federal responsibility will mark the end of Belgium.

      But the Belgian divide goes beyond language. Flanders tends to be conservative and free-trade minded. Wallonia's long-dominant Socialists have a record of corruption and poor governance.

      Flanders has half the unemployment of Wallonia and a 25 percent higher per-capita income, and its politicians are tired of subsidizing their Francophone neighbors.

      As governments worldwide tried to tame a financial crisis and recession, the four parties that led Belgium since 2007 struggled with linguistic spats, most notably over a bilingual voting district comprising the capital, Brussels, and 35 Flemish towns bordering it.

      The high court ruled it illegal in 2003 as only Dutch is the official language in Flanders. Over the years, Francophones from Brussels have moved in large numbers to the city's leafy Flemish suburbs, where they are accused of refusing to learn Dutch and integrate.
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