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Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-05-13 12:48:56
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Waterloo battle site gets a facelift

Almost 200 years after the French cavalry charge at Waterloo, bulldozers rolled into action Wednesday to spruce up the memorial site of the battle that humbled Napoleon. Where cannon balls once thundered across fields, construction workers began breaking down walls in a project that will see the demolition of restaurants, stores and parking lots considered eyesores in the rural area south of Brussels. The goal is to bring more beauty to what Victor Hugo once described as a "dreary plain," the place where Prussian and English troops handed Napoleon’s army a decisive defeat on June 18, 1815. The centrepiece will remain the Lion Mound, a 40-metre (130-foot) tall cone of earth and grass topped by a lion statue that was erected in honour of victorious Prince William of Orange.

"We want to bring authenticity back to Waterloo, which is one of the most well-preserved battlefields in the world," said Paul Furlan, tourism minister in Belgium’s Wallonia region. "The site is currently very limited. The structures have aged and are not adapted to modern tourism," Furlan said. Each year, 300,000 tourists climb some 200 steps to the top of the Lion Mound, from where they peer at undulating land where French soldiers fell to volleys fired by Wellington’s army perched on ridges above. Today the vast battlefield - which every five years plays host to a re-enactment with men dressed in period uniforms wielding 19th century weaponry - is mostly covered by farmland. "Farmers were their best protectors," said Yves Van der Cruysen, director of the Waterloo Battlefield Association.

The rehabilitation project, in the pipeline for a decade, will allow visitors to "immerse themselves in the heart of the battle" and relive the charges of French cavalrymen against Prussian and English infantrymen formed into unbreakable squares. Instead of constructing new buildings, a huge underground memorial will be dug. Inside the 6,000-square-metre structure, visitors will be able to see a four-dimensional film of the battle made by Italian director Franco Dragone. "This is to respond to visitors’ demand for more emotions and the requirements of a public that is more knowledgeable and looking for historic tourism," said Waterloo mayor Serge Kubla. With a budget totalling 40 million Euros ($52 million), the project aims to attract 500,000 visitors each year.


Recovery for Belgium grinds to a halt

Belgium's economic recovery has ground to a halt, the European Commission said Friday, owing to the slowdown in the global recovery and a revival of the euro-zone debt crisis. Gross domestic product is set to stagnate in 2012 and grow a modest 1.2% in 2013, according to the latest forecast. The high degree of openness of the Belgian economy made it vulnerable to slowdowns in neighbouring countries, the commission said in its report.

For the second-half of the year, the commission said GDP should increase "on the back of a gradual recovery for international trade... and "crisis-related uncertainty will fade". Growth in Belgian exports is set to be limited in 2012, accelerating slightly in 2013. Inflation was down on 2011, when it reached 3.5%, but is set to remain high at 2.9%, mainly on account of a surge in oil prices, coupled with the impact of consolidation measures in last year's budget. The commission foresees a drop in inflation to 1.8% in 2013. A recent pickup in employment has been reversed, the report said, with the first two months of 2012 showing a rise in the jobless number to 7.2% from 7.1% in December. Unemployment for 2012 is expected to rise 0.4 percentage point from 2011 to 7.6%, nudging up further to 7.9% in 2013.

General government debt reached 98% of GDP in 2011, with the debt ratio set to rise slightly and likely to "exceed the psychological threshold of 100% of GDP in 2012," the commission said Friday. The commission warned that the state's support of financial institutions in the form of guarantees posed a "risk for public finances," referring to Belgium's recent nationalization of the Belgian arm of Dexia bank. The government deficit is likely to decrease this year to 3% of GDP from 3.7% last year, thanks mainly to budgetary measures taken in 2011, such as a tax on interest and dividends.


Belgium adds to online poker blacklist

The Belgium Gaming Commission has expanded its blacklist of companies which internet service providers in the country must block. New additions to the list include bwin.com, betsson.com, bet-at-home.com, betclic.com, williamhill.com, stanjames.com, and betfair.com, all of which offer online poker.

These companies join the likes of 888.com, titanpoker.be, winamax.fr and everestpoker.be. Belgian authorities claim the blacklist offer opportunities to legitimate operators who apply for licences while protecting players from ‘illegal’ sites which operate without a licence in the country.

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