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Belgians agree on one issue: foreigners - International Herald Tribune

BRUSSELS: This 177-year-old nation came a step closer Tuesday to averting breakup after its squabbling linguistic communities managed to agree on the one issue that increasingly unites them: fear of immigrants.

Belgium, divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south, has spent 120 days since national elections without a new government. Political parties have been unable to agree on the country's direction, and fears are growing that Belgium will dissolve. Yet signs of a breakthrough in the coalition talks emerged Tuesday morning when the Christian Democrats and Liberals temporarily put aside their differences and agreed on a tough new approach to asylum policy and economic migration.

Despite this agreement, political analysts stressed that the crisis was far from over with the important issue of how to grant more autonomy to Flanders and Wallonia still hanging in the balance. They underlined, however, that the deal illustrated how immigration had become a unifying issue in a country where the prime minister-in-waiting recently publicly fumbled the words of the national anthem and where the unifying force for Belgians of all linguistic stripes is a love of the country's 400 kinds of beer.

by Fran on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 11:46:18 PM EST
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