Belgium. 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.
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.
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
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.