Belgium's Flemish separatist leader demands reform
The leader of Belgium's Flemish separatists on Sunday demanded radical reform of the federal state as his party staged a victory rally following its success in general elections.
But Bart de Wever of the NVA, which was ahead in first results from Dutch-speaking Flanders, also extended a hand to French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels, saying: "Don't be afraid. Have faith in yourselves."
The NVA (New Flemish Alliance) won the largest share of votes cast in Flanders, Belgium's more affluent north, with some 30 percent, television projections showed as results continued to trickle through.
Fresh from a victory speech to chanting supporters in Brussels, he warned that a hand of peace must be extended during negotiations with moderate Flemish and francophone parties, who want to retain a unified Belgium.
To cries of "Long Live a Free Flanders" and "Thank you Bart" as he reached the podium, arm aloft, de Wever said: "The NVA wins the election today... these are extraordinary results, we are entitled to celebrate."
He stressed that the party "must assume our responsibilities" in negotiations to form a coalition government, which will centre on reform of the state and its finances, citing some 70 percent of Flemish voters who did not plump for his party.
"The state must be reformed, our finances must be cleaned up," he said.
However, he stressed that Flemish nationalists had to "extend a hand to francophones", adding that "we need to change the state together.
De Wever reiterated during a subsequent live TV interview that he will stand aside in talks seeking to nominate a new Belgian prime minister to replace current caretaker Yves Leterme.
"The job of prime minister for me is not important, the key is to get a deal," he added. "If it helps the francophones to trust us, I'm happy to make that sacrifice."
The favourite to take that post is Elio di Rupo, an openly homosexual leader of the Walloon Socialist party, who said his party had claimed a "fantastic success" in the parallel elections in the other two federal regions.
He said he would push for "a reform of the state that would guarantee greater prosperity for Walloons, the people of Brussels and Flanders."
© 2010 AFP