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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
The ghost town of Ghent
BBC Wales Europe Correspondent Iolo ap Dafydd files from an under whelming EU summit in Belgium

It was supposed to be a crowning glory for the Flanders region of Belgium and for the city the size of Swansea.

But, after major riots in Gothenburg - monumental ones which saw the death of a protester at the G8 summit in Genoa last summer - this "informal" gathering of European Union leaders is a disastrous non-event for Ghent's townsfolk.


Most of the city's inhabitants are either locked indoors or have gone away for a long weekend

With the increase of demonstrations - and violent ones at that - the citizens of Ghent took no chances.

Most shops are closed, the trams and trains are on go-slow and even the schools have shut.

It seems that most of the city's inhabitants are either locked indoors or have gone away for a long weekend.

Deathly mist

The atmosphere is similar to that of a morgue and sinister - especially when, in the gloom of morning mist, I saw the feared Belgian police filling their water cannons vehicles with water from a nearby canal.

Ghent shop
Shopkeepers have been boarding up
In 1998, in the cool June climate, Cardiff's staging of the longer, two-day Euro summit at least passed peacefully - before the culture of armed police and violent demonstrators clashing on normally peaceful European cities had taken hold.

Like Cardiff and the industrial south east of Wales, Ghent was at one time a busy, prosperous industrial city in central Flanders.

In the Middle Ages, it was the second largest city north of the Alps.

The city brochure hand-out does not elaborate on the exact location of the largest town of the time.

But apart from sharing the same capital letter as Gothenburg and Genoa, the whole point of Ghent's close-down is to avoid a repeat of the violence.


The grandeur of Ghent has also been a bit of a non-starter

It could bring an abrupt halt, if not a total end to the trend of laying siege to summits and cities who happen to stage them.

The whole point of this one day half-way house was to show the town during the Belgian presidency of the European Union.

But the grandeur of Ghent has also been a bit of a non-starter.

In the talks themselves, the 10 weeks until the introduction of the euro and the next stage of EU expansion should have held centre stage.

But the Belgian scheme of things has been overshadowed by international events since 11 September.

Add to that the tiniest of cracks beginning to appear in the so far staunch pro-US view of the union.

Splintered summit

The big three of France, Germany and Britain has added fuel to the fire by conducting their own 45-minute mini-summit on possible military action with US troops in Afghanistan soon.

The smaller nations, including some 5,000 Belgian and Dutch protestors, do not feel comfortable with the perceived aggressive tone of Tony Blair in recent weeks.

And haggling in the run-up to this summit on a whole range of issues highlights the difficulties in having a unified European voice on security matters.

Ghent
The town has gone quiet
Yet, the EU's united front is far more unified now than it was during the Gulf War in 1991.

While the politicians strut their stuff in Ghent on 19 October, Welsh people, and especially Cardiffians, must surely have sympathy with citizens of this city.

Unfortunately for Wales, it was the quality of the food that is mostly remembered about the Cardiff summit, and not the lovely parks or the lack of violence and demonstrations.

While Wales's poor food might have been pushed to the back of some petulant hacks's, memories because of the change in atmosphere in European summits, Ghent's lunch for journalists today was abysmal.

And it is hard to digest a bad lunch while trying to understand the political bickering.


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19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
17 Oct 01 | Europe
16 Oct 01 | Europe
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