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Belgium

Yearbook 2004

2004 BelgiumBelgium. The elections held in June, partly for the regional parliaments and partly for the European Parliament, seemed to point to increased polarization in Belgian politics. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Liberal Party VLD suffered a setback, as did the sister party MR in Wallonia. The socialist parties, on the other hand, progressed in both regions, as did Brussels.

According to CountryAAH, most notable was the continued advancement of the Flemish Blok's extremist nationalist Flemish. The party has steadily increased in several consecutive elections and now received a quarter of the votes in Flanders. Even in Wallonia and Brussels, right-wing parties strengthened their position somewhat. The established parties continued to exclude Vlaams Blok from cooperation. The party is xenophobic and advocates independence for Flanders. In November, the country's highest court ruled that Vlaam Blok is racist, which in practice meant that it was banned. The party leadership responded by dissolving the party and allowing it to resurface under a new name: Vlaams Belang.

2004 Belgium

One result of the elections was that one third of the national government's members resigned to take up posts at regional level. Foreign Minister Louis Michel was also appointed a new EU Commissioner. A new government was therefore formally formed in July.

After a nearly three-month trial in June, child murderer Marc Dutroux, called "Belgium's most hated man", was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was charged with robbing and raping six girls, of which only two survived. His ex-wife Michelle Martin received 30 years in prison for assisting. Although the police investigation was ongoing for more than seven years before the trial, there was no evidence to confirm stubborn rumors that Dutroux would have been part of a pedophile network with ramifications far into the community.

In January, six people were sentenced to long prison sentences for lying behind the 1991 murder of politician André Cools. He must have been on the verge of exposing abuses within the Flemish Socialist Party and murdered at the behest of party mates. The police investigation led to a scandal that shook Belgium in the 1990s, with extensive disclosures about top-level dirty business.

A severe gas explosion occurred in July outside Brussels. Eighteen people were killed and over 100 were damaged when natural gas pipelines exploded.

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