30,000 Belgians protest lack of government crisis
More than 30,000 people took to the streets of Brussels Sunday, police said, to urge Belgium's warring politicians to set aside their differences and put an end to the country's longest-ever political crisis, dpa reported.
Belgium has been without an elected government since elections 224 days ago - and the stalemate is set to continue as politicians argue over carving up the central government between the country's Dutch- and French-speaking regions, Flanders and Wallonia.
In reaction, a group of five Belgians launched the "SHAME" initiative, calling on fellow citizens to protest on Sunday against the politicians' inability to break the deadlock.
"We want a government! An open and honest dialogue between the leaders of all parties, both Flemish and Francophone. And as quickly as possible!" an appeal published on a website said.
According to police estimates, 30,800 people responded. At the start of the march, organizers thought that the number of participants would have been around 25,000, the Belga news agency reported.
The turnout exceeded expectations.
Organizers said the march was meant to be totally non-partisan - calling for a government to be formed, but not taking a stance on the whether the country should be split between Flanders and Wallonia.
Sunday's event was billed as "neither unionist nor separatist". For that reason, participants were told that displaying Belgian flags would be "tolerated but not recommended."
Nevertheless, many demonstrators did not follow the advice, displaying slogans condemning secession.
Belgium's political crises have become increasingly hard to solve, with hardline parties from richer Flanders demanding ever more autonomy for their region, in order to reduce fiscal transfers to poorer Wallonia.
The success of Sunday's protest seemed to indicate a reawakened public awareness about the political dead end the country has fallen into.
During the previous post-electoral deadlock, in 2007, a demonstration in favour of Belgian unity drew 35,000 people unto the streets.
But only a few thousands did so in May 2010, after a long-brewing row pitting Flemish against Wallons over Brussels' administrative boundaries triggered the last general election.