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Belgian Government Averts New Crisis Over Language

January 9, 1995

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Language has toppled Belgian governments before and threatened to do so again Monday before officials found a way to ease strife between Dutch- and French-speaking regions.

Under a complicated compromise, the village of Voeren in Dutch-speaking Flanders will have a bilingual mayor instead of Jose Happart, a francophone who won the election by promising to reintegrate Voeren with French-speaking Wallonia.

In return, the Flemish governor who administers the farming hamlet will have to seek the advice of French-speakers on linguistic issues concerning Voeren.

The Voeren issue has twice brought down governments over the past decade and had often caused tension between northern Flanders and southern Wallonia. Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is bilingual.

Voeren, a village of 4,000, is a linguistically divided enclave administered by Flanders. Over the past years, a party that wants Voeren, Fourons in French, to return to Wallonia has won municipal elections.

Jose Smeets, who was second on Happart’s slate but is known to be more conciliatory towards the Dutch-speakers, will become mayor.

Under linguistic laws, a mayor must speak the language of the region, something Happart has refused to do.

Fifty-five percent of Belgium’s 9.9 million people speak Dutch.

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