Belgian 'Shame' march demands unity and government

Belgian march for unity in Brussels, 23 January 2011
Image caption The protesters in the Belgian capital numbered in the tens of thousands

Tens of thousands of Belgians have staged a march to call for national unity and demand a government after seven months of political impasse.

About 50,00 people joined the "Shame: no government, great country" march in Brussels, organisers said. Police put the number at 34,000.

Belgium is divided between Dutch speakers in the north and French speakers in the south.

A caretaker government has run the country since elections in June 2010.

The best performer in that vote was the centre-right New Flemish Alliance (NVA) party headed by Bart De Wever, which wants more power for Flanders and has spoken of ultimately pursuing independence.

'Beer, chips and a government'

The party has been unable to agree on a government in negotiations with with Francophone Socialists, resulting in a deadlock that has lasted 224 days - a European record.

The stalemate has led to fears that the wealthier, Flemish north could secede.

The march, organised on the social networking website Facebook, was one of several initiatives by campaigners for unity.

"We want beer, chips and a government," said one banner, referring to two of Belgium's best known products.

One of the organisers, Thomas Decreus, said the march was meant to show that "the people can act where politicians fail: i.e., working together across the language barrier".

The financial markets have been unsettled by the political crisis and concerns that Belgian sovereign debt is close to 100% of gross domestic product.

In one of the other efforts to promote Belgian unity, actor Benoit Poelvoorde is heading a campaign for people not to shave until a government is formed.

So far, 653 people have signed up on the campaign's website - including at least one woman who pledged to stop shaving her legs.

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