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Language rift in Belgian election

6 May 09 08:01 GMT

Feuding over the rights of Dutch and French speakers has erupted again in Belgium in the run-up to voting in the European Parliament election on 7 June.

Billboard space for election posters is being denied to Francophone political parties in two mainly Dutch-speaking municipalities near Brussels.

Politicians in Halle and Affligem object to Francophone Brussels parties campaigning in the Flanders region.

Belgian politics closely mirrors the country's deep linguistic divide.

A centrist Francophone party, CDH, condemned the Flemish municipalities' move as an attack on "the fundamental rights of French speakers on the periphery [of Brussels]", the AFP news agency reported.

Some 60% of Belgium's population is Dutch-speaking, and about 40% French-speaking. The city of Brussels, although surrounded by Dutch-speaking Flanders, is largely French-speaking.

But about 100,000 Francophones live in mainly Dutch-speaking suburbs of the capital.

Dutch-speaking politicians are pushing for the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district to be split up.

Belgium's long-running tensions over language rights contributed to political paralysis after the last general election, when for months the parties were unable to form a new coalition.

Belgian regions already have considerable autonomy, but Dutch-speaking parties want more powers to be devolved from the centre.

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