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Belgian Split Returns to Agenda After Local Separatist Triumph

A possible breakup of Belgium rose back on to the agenda after a separatist party triumphed in local elections in Flanders, the country’s wealthier northern region.

The head of the N-VA party, Bart De Wever, re-emerged as a dominant force in Belgian politics by winning election yesterday as mayor of Antwerp, the country’s second-largest city.

De Wever, who failed to gain control of the national government after 2010 elections, said he would use the Antwerp mayor’s pulpit to push for more autonomy for Dutch-speaking Flanders.

De Wever’s victory “adds uncertainty and pressure, and darkens the Belgian horizon,” editorialized Le Soir, the country’s main French-language daily. “What has emerged in Flanders in recent months has to be managed, or Bart De Wever will dictate it. We know where he wants to go. And he’ll go there.”

The N-VA got 37.7 percent of the votes in Antwerp, beating the 28.6 percent of a group led by incumbent Socialist Mayor Patrick Janssens. The N-VA was the top vote-getter in three of the five Flemish provinces.

De Wever said the handoff of more power to Flanders cannot wait until the next nationwide balloting in 2014. He called on the federal government, led by French-speaking Socialist Elio Di Rupo, to embark on immediate talks over “confederal” reforms.

“Give the Flemish the system of government they’re entitled to,” De Wever said in his victory speech. “The forces of change have carried the day.”

De Wever was outfoxed in the record 541-day brinkmanship that followed the 2010 national vote, which led to other Flemish parties joining a Di Rupo-led government. It enacted a constitutional overhaul, the sixth since 1970, that transferred some powers to the regions.

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