Belgians march over political stalemate

 

BELGIAN LEADERS came under fresh pressure to form a government as tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets of Brussels yesterday urging them to break seven months of political stalemate.

Some 224 days after voters went to the polls in a general election, the “Shame” rally underscored mounting public concern at the failure of Belgium’s linguistically divided parties to reach a powersharing accord.

The protest was organised by five activists in their 20s who developed the “No Government, Great Country’’ campaign on the Facebook website. The protest met a mixed reaction in political circles, with the powerful Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever indicating he thought little of it.

Co-organiser Thomas Royberghs, a student, told the assembled protesters that many called the effort meaningless, naive or shallow. “But let me ask you, what is meaningless in demanding that we want a government?” he said.

Police said 34,000 people turned up, but the organisers put the attendance at 50,000. Amid fear the country’s divisions could lead to its disintegration, marchers hoisted banners telling politicians that the “time to govern” had long since passed.

Belgium’s borrowing costs are rising, and many local analysts believe market pressure will ultimately force an accord. A deal remains elusive, however.

While the logjam pits Dutch-speaking leaders from Flanders against French-speaking counterparts in Wallonia, protesters from both language groups marched yesterday.

Mr De Wever wants to devolve more power to Belgium’s regions, threatening the flow of large fiscal transfers to Wallonia from Flanders. French speakers resist this.

Elio di Rupo, leader of the French-speaking Socialists and a likely candidate for prime minister if a coalition is formed, said after the march he recognised the need for a deal “but not at any price”.