Thousands march against Belgian political impasse

The demonstrators sought to pressurise political leaders to form government.

Brussels: Thousands of Belgians staged a march of "Shame" in the capital Sunday to demand a government after a seven-month impasse between Dutch and French-speaking politicians, a European record.

About 34,000 people took part in the march, police said, answering a Facebook call by young people from both sides of the country`s language divide in the first demonstration of its kind since inconclusive June elections.

In an event often laced with humour, a well-known comedian called for a "mussels and fries" revolution and some protesters wore stickers reading "A Beard for Belgium" after a Belgian actor call on men not to shave until the political crisis is resolved.

"What do we want? We want a government," cried the protesters, mainly young people, many wearing white jumpsuits in what they had dubbed the march of "Shame".

The outfits were meant to recall the unprecedented "white march" of 1996 when 300,000 people took to the streets of Brussels to protest the crimes of Belgian child killer Marc Dutroux. It was the first of a series of street marches against official incompetence in the scandal, which has undermined confidence in the state.

One of the event`s organisers, 23-year-old graphic designer Simon Vandereecken, hailed the march as a success "that exceeded our hopes”.

"Our politicians will have to react after such a turnout. If not, we will see what initiatives to take," he said.

The political impasse -- in this country hosting European Union headquarters -- reflects a sharpening divide between the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south.

It has frustrated citizens who are multiplying initiatives to pressure political leaders to form a government.

Politicians have been squabbling over plans to give its different communities more autonomy since the June 13 general election, which also saw a strong vote for Flemish separatists.

The Dutch speakers -- who represent 60 percent of Belgium`s 11 million citizens -- want more autonomy for their region, notably in fiscal and social policy.

The French speakers, however, want to limit decentralisation, fearing both a loss of subsidies for their region and the start of a true break-up of the country.

Bureau Report

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