Fri, February 18, 2011
World > Europe

Belgians celebrate 249 days without a government

2011-02-18 03:07:14 GMT2011-02-18 11:07:14(Beijing Time)

Students cheer as they protest in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. While politicians wallow in Belgium's longest political crisis which pits the leaders of 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings against those of 4.5 million Francophones, people from around the country unite in celebration of crisis day number 249 on Thursday, what many see as equaling the world record of a country going without an effective government, formerly held by Iraq. (AP Photo/Elisa Day)

A student smiles as she walks away with a free tray of Belgian fries on the Ladeuze square in Leuven, Belgium, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Dutch-speaking Leon Zoetebier (right) and French-speaking Franz Coquidor bicycle in opposite directions during a symbolic protest in Brussels, Belgium on Feb 17, 2011. (AFP/Georges Gobet)

BRUSSELS - Belgium on Thursday snatched Iraq's dubious record as the country boasting the world's longest political crisis of recent times, an event to be cheekily marked by a "chips revolution" honouring a favourite national dish.

The nation of 11 million people, home to both the European Union and NATO, hit 249 days of political deadlock after an election last June 13 that failed to produce an outright winner.

Already Europe's longest wait for a government -- beating the Netherlands in 1977 at 208 days -- Thursday sees Belgium out-performing Iraq, where Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Muslims struck a political pact late last year after 249 days, which in December, 40 days later, saw a government sworn in.

But a new government for Belgium is not even on the horizon, as politicians from the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south continue to squabble over a coalition government deal.

In hopes of bringing the two sides to a deal, Belgian students have called a host of tongue-in-cheek events to mark the occasion.

After boycotts on sex and shaving, these include free French fries countrywide.

"We've had enough of political games," one of the organisers, Kliment Kostadinov, told AFP. "We must get a government fast and a reform of our institutions that is good for all Belgians."

In Antwerp DJs will be on hand, while Liege stages a flash-mob, Louvain hands out free chips, and Ghent features 249 protesters "dressed down to the bare essentials."

As fears mount of a lasting divorce, figurehead sovereign King Albert II has named a succession of special envoys to bridge the gulf but all efforts have floundered. Current go-between is caretaker finance minister Didier Reynders.

At stake in the political haggling is a deal to reform Belgium's federal system, giving more autonomy to each of its regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels, a bilingual region stranded inside Flanders.


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