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Europe

Unity at stake as Belgians head to the polls

Voting is underway in Belgium in an election that could pave the way for a national break-up, with the mainstream Flemish party calling for separation from the French-speaking part of the country.

Workers put up election posters in Zoersel, Belgium

The voters will decide if they want to keep their country together

Chairman of the NVA, New Flemish Alliance Party, Bart De Wever gestures while speaking during a media conference

Polls indicate that De Wever may be Belgium's next prime minister

Belgian voters have hit the polls on Sunday, June 13, in a general election, in which Flemish separatist parties are expected to do well, increasing concerns that Belgium is moving towards a split along its linguistic fault line.

The head of the Flemish Alliance (NVA) party, Bart De Wever, wants Dutch-speaking Flanders to sever its ties with French-speaking Wallonia. There is a long history of tension between the two regions. Belgians living in Flanders have currently half the unemployment of those in Wallonia, and a 25 percent higher per-capita income. Only the capital, Brussels, is officially bilingual.

The elections were called after a coalition government collapsed at the end of April in a dispute over bilingualism.

Voting is compulsory for the 7.7 million voters in Belgium, 60 percent of whom are Flemish. Polls are open till 3 p.m. local time on Sunday.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP/AP/dpa)

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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