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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2011-12-16 08:23:06
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Belgium has gay prime minister

French-speaking Socialist Elio di Rupo has become the first out gay leader in the European Union, having been elected the premier of Belgium, according to the Wall Street Journal. Di Rupo, 60, is the mayor of the city of Mons and is a former chemistry professor. Di Rupo—who sports a bowtie and floppy hair, and who swears by abdominal crunches—came out in the late 1990s when questioned by journalists.

Speaking with the author of Elio Di Rupo: A Life, A Vision, he remembered the media pursuing him down a street, with one journalist saying, "Yet they say you're a homosexual!" according to the BBC. "I turned around and shot back: 'Yes. So what?' I will never forget that moment... For several seconds there was silence... People were so surprised by my reply they stopped jostling each other. It was a sincere, truthful reply."

He was been criticized for not having excellent command of Dutch—which 60 percent of Belgians speak. Di Rupo has promised to master the language and deliver his responses in parliament "in Dutch, with mistakes."


Borrowing costs top 5% as King seeks to rescue talks

Belgium's borrowing costs soared over 5% Tuesday as the country's King Albert II held talks with senior politicians in a bid to rescue coalition negotiations. Belgium has been without a government since elections in June 2010 but over the autumn, talks hosted by the French-speaking Socialist leader Elio di Rupo appeared on the brink of sealing a government. However, talks stalled on the 2012 budget and how to make EUR11.3 billion in savings next year to reach Belgium's 2.8% of gross domestic product deficit target. Di Rupo handed his resignation to the king on Monday after weekend talks failed to make progress.

Albert II hasn't responded to the resignation offer but on Tuesday he sat down with representatives of four of the six parties involved in the negotiations. There was no statement from the palace on the content of the talks but an official said the King was trying to evaluate whether they can continue or whether the problems among the six parties are too intractable and the negotiations will need to be re-launched under new leadership. The King is expected to meet the remaining two parties involved in the talks Wednesday morning. He isn't expected to meet with Flemish separatist party the N-VA, which won first place in last year's elections but declined to participate in the recent coalition talks. Some Belgian politicians have warned in recent days that if talks start again a painfully stitched together deal on constitutional reforms may need to be renegotiated.

As the politicians went for talks at the palace, bond investors forced Belgian borrowing costs ever higher. Belgian 10-year bond yields raised 26 basis points to a 2011 high of 5.04% on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the cost of insuring Belgium bonds against default rose to a record $350,000 a year on average for every $10 million of debt. For much of the year, Belgium has hovered just out of the line of fire of the euro-zone debt crisis. While the country's yields lifted sharply in August, Belgium's robust growth of the first half of 2011 and its expected budget deficit of between 3% and 4% for 2011 eased pressure. However, investors said Belgium's room for manoeuvre was running out. "The Belgian budget and government situation is likely to garner more attention from investors with our expectation that the market will lose patience if political failure continues," said Harvindar Sian, interest rate strategist at RBS in London.


Killer feared return to prison

A man who killed five people and himself in a gun and grenade attack in Belgium feared going back to prison and losing the life he had built, his lawyer said Thursday. The attack on a crowded market square in Liege Tuesday by Nourdine Amrani, which also left at least 130 people wounded, shocked the nation. His defence lawyer in Liege, Jean-Francois Dister, told CNN Amrani had called him late Monday and early Tuesday after the police called him in for interview Tuesday afternoon over a sexual assault case.

"It wasn't so much life in prison that bothered him -- he'd served time already -- but it was he'd rebuilt his life on the outside, and he was worried about losing all this," Dister said. The lawyer said he was stunned when he heard later that day that Amrani, whom he had known for two-and-a-half years, was responsible for the grenade attack. "It's very shocking. I don't understand the reason why he did this, and I think I will probably never understand," he said.

Nonetheless, Dister's comments give the first real insight into what might have motivated Amrani to go on a rampage that targeted people waiting at a bus stop by a busy Christmas market. After the attack, police also found a dead woman in a residence next to a workshop where Amrani once grew marijuana, a local police spokesman said Wednesday. Amrani had previously served time in prison for rape and drug trafficking offenses, his lawyer said. He was released last year.

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