Fury at fake TV news claim of Belgian split

A FAKE television news bulletin that Belgium was to split provoked outrage in both halves of the country yesterday.

"Irresponsible", "questionable" and "regrettable" were among the reactions from Belgium's political mainstream in both French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders after a fictional report that Flanders had declared independence.

The prime minister Guy Verhofstadt's office described the bulletin as a "misplaced joke".

A commission of the Francophone parliament was set to view RTBF's footage, which included a report that King Albert II had fled the country.

Only much later during the broadcast did a subtitle reveal that the reports were fictional.

The Francophone culture ministry said its switchboard had been inundated with complaints. "A lot of people were shocked and very moved; some were crying," a ministry spokesman said.

RTBF's head of news, Yves Thiran, said he had hoped to increase debate six months ahead of a general election.

"Up until now, the debate has been confined to academic and political circles. We want a more public debate," he said.

The far-right, nationalist Vlaams Belang became the largest single party in the Flemish regional parliament with a quarter of the vote in 2004.

Its leading figure, Filip Dewinter, called the bulletin a triumph. "Thanks to this, we can speak about the independence of Flanders and Wallonia," he said.

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