Belgium striptease protest over government
Belgians have protested across the country to demand politicians end eight months of bickering and form a government.
About 50 people, most students, stripped to their underwear in the northern city of Ghent and stood to form the word 'unity', fuelled by shots of Dutch gin to keep warm.
"There's an expression in Dutch to be naked and meaning to make a fool of oneself. Nothing has happened, the politicians have negotiated for 249 days and it is still a stalemate so they are making fools of themselves." said co-organiser Jouwe Vanhoutteghem, a masters student at Ghent University.
In the central city of Leuven, Belgians received French fries if they wrote a message to sparring politicians in action dubbed the "Fries Revolution", a reference to one of Belgium's national specialities.
Belgian media marked what they believe is a world record set by their country, 249 days of deadlock since the June 13 parliamentary election.
"Finally world champions," crowed Flemish daily De Standaard over a photo of happy Belgian sports fans doing a conga.
Belgium holds the European record for stalled coalition talks, according to researchers at Sweden's Umea University who monitor the democratic process in Europe.
Iraqi parties took 249 days last year to agree a coalition deal and a further 40 for parliament to approve the administration.
Thursday's protests were the latest in a series of civil actions in response to the deadlock. A month ago, 34,000 Belgians marched through Brussels.
A Belgian actor urged the nation's men not to shave until a government is formed. So far, 771 have uploaded pictures showing they are growing beards in support. (www.unebelgiqueaupoil.be)
But onlookers on Thursday expressed doubt that Belgian politicians would be stirred into action, and some do not share the unity theme.
"I think Belgium should split. I have nothing against the king, but all our money from Flanders goes to the other side," said Luc Baudewijn, a 53-year-old goods transporter.
Since the inconclusive Belgian vote last June, a caretaker administration has run the country while Dutch- and French-speaking party leaders have argued over the degree to which powers should be transferred to regions of the linguistically divided country.
The Flemish complain about subsidising poorer Wallonia, while French speakers argue further devolution is a step towards splitting Belgium, in which they fear they would lose the most.
King Albert gave his chief mediator a further two weeks on Wednesday to try to break the deadlock. Interim Finance Minister Didier Reynders is the sixth person to take on the challenge.
Economists say a fully fledged government is required to take the measures needed to reduce public debt, forecast to rise to 98.1 percent of annual gross domestic product this year.
Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has said it may downgrade Belgium if it fails to form a government by June.