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Belgium ties Iraq for longest period with no government

A worker threw his shoes at the stock exchange building in Brussels yesterday as part of a protest against the country’s having no official government, its 289th day in a stalemate. A worker threw his shoes at the stock exchange building in Brussels yesterday as part of a protest against the country’s having no official government, its 289th day in a stalemate. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)
Associated Press / March 30, 2011

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BRUSSELS — Belgium tied the world record with Iraq for time without a government yesterday, but months of political waffling that was once a joke is wearing thin.

Yesterday marked the 289th day the country’s bickering Dutch-speaking and Francophone politicians have failed to form a government after a June 13 election, and there’s no agreement on the horizon.

Early irritation turned into almost giddy celebration as the country broke the European record in January. Then parties were thrown last month as Belgium matched the time it took for an initial agreement to form an Iraqi government two years ago. Iraq then took another month to actually present its government.

Yesterday, as the moment came and went, Belgium was subdued.

Front pages focused on anything but the record, highlighting instead the resurgent national football team, the breakup of a celebrity cooking couple, and the downfall of a local politician.

“They are again the pride of the nation,’’ headlined the front of the DH newspaper, with a picture of the national football team, which beat Austria over the weekend for its best result in years.

The Red Devils football team is often seen as one of the last unifying forces in the kingdom of 6 million Dutch-speakers and 4.5 million Francophones.

After celebrations attended by thousands across Belgium last month, much of the party mood — and some of the anger, too — has dissipated.

“There is a lot of apathy on both sides of the linguistic front,’’ said Professor Dave Sinardet of the University of Brussels.

In the university town Ghent, only about 100 people showed up for a meeting on a sunny square instead of the thousands who took part last month.

After decades of increasingly difficult compromises, running the country has become increasingly complicated. And richer Flanders has increasingly demanded more autonomy from Wallonia.

Walloon politicians, though, want to hang on to as many national institutions as possible for their financial survival.

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