Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Belgians Deploy in Libya

And now for the news.

Belgian aircraft yesterday launched a strike in Libya. The Army is expected to come out in sympathy, as are Belgian post office workers, who will take industrial action for three days each side of the Easter holidays.

Two Belgian F-16s, borrowed from the Royal Netherlands Air Force and  piloted by Germans, are known to be in-theatre. 

Belgian politicians with stakes in the nation's arms trade have approved the supply of arms to the value of €20 billion for the NATO operation, although there are no plans to actually deliver them. The bill has already been sent to Washington, and there is a proviso for any unused weapons to be supplied to the Congo at preferential rates.

Senior Head of the Army, General Jaqueline de Smedt, aged 23, told journalists from her hotel room in Paris, "We have plans to deploy 200 Group 4 security guards on the outskirts of Tripoli, but it is highly unlikely that this will actually happen. We will also be sending a detachment of Special Forces just as soon as we assess exactly what their special needs are".

The Belgian navy has agreed to deploy a submarine, U-251, in Libyan waters. This is expected to arrive in Honolulu in September after training exercises off the coast of Atlantis are completed.

Several Belgian Prime Ministers were unavailable for comment, or indeed for anything else.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

British War Memorial in Doel Dismantled

In Doel, in East Flanders, the British war monument at the yacht basin has been pulled down. This happened at the request of the local authorities.

The monument was erected in 1948 to commemorate the British soldiers who protected Antwerp and East Flanders against German V1 and V2 attacks at the end of the war. The municipality of Beveren wants to move the monument to the Prosperpolder, as the future of the polder town of Doel, near the port of Antwerp, is uncertain. The local pressure group concerned with the future of Doel, Doel 2020, is angry. "The monument is pulled down before a public investigation has been started into the future of the village. This again shows how people deal with legal procedures, public investigations and zoning plans", Jan Creve of Doel 2020 explains.

"It's a pity that it happened in a sneaky way", says Alain Heyrman who represents a local group to protect the monument. "We will continue our petition and we hope that the monument can keep its place on the banks of the Scheldt, between the windmill and the nuclear plant."
Pressure groups have asked the Flemish minister Geert Bourgeois (Flemish nationalist) to protect the monument and say that they are not giving up the fight.

An unfortunate acronym...

I was thrilled to learn of the existence of an armed political organisation that calls itself MILF. Now this is a highly unfortunate acronym, but one that has brightened up my day no end.

The joy continued when I checked out their website, which declares that "The MILF is the vanguard of the Islamic movement in the Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao and the neighbouring islands." This conjures up some pretty special imagery, but whilst I want it to be so, I know that it can never be.

MILF is, in fact, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which operates with a small force of soldiers in some islands I never heard of before.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Ben Ali is coming..........

Zin El Abidine Ben Ali is the deposed 74 year old former president of Tunisia. He is not too popular at the moment, and there are fears for his safety. And so he is planning to move to Belgium.

It appears that he has a distant relative in the village of Rellegem, a few miles outside Brussels. In the interests of security, BelgaPlod are not divulging the identity of person concerned, but should Ben Ali rock up in Rellegem it probably won't be too difficult to work out where he is staying.

Actually, he should do quite well here. It didn't take me too long to realise that the North African community, which is huge in these parts, is the nearest you will find in Belgium to a thriving economy - it is certainly the only community in Belgium that understands the concept of good customer service. Indeed, should he decide that a drastic career change is not what he wants, he could always apply to become Prime Minister here - we haven't had a real one of those for ages.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

French Opinion Polls - bad news for Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy : Trailing in the Polls
 This week we decamped to Strasbourg for the monthly round of meetings and events that I alone seem to enjoy so much. Everybody else in the eurosceptic camp claims to hate it here, but I find it a beautiful city, and I love to be here. And the work is never dull. And during these weeks I tend to ponder (uncharacteristically) on matters French. And so I note with interest that Marine Le Pen is now favourite to take the French Presidency.

This makes me feel a little more important than I was last week, and I will tell you why. I know this is a tenuous link, but.....

If she wins, then I will be able to say "The French President's dad is in my old office"!

I told you it was tenuous, but Jean Marie Le Pen has indeed taken over what was my first office when I arrived in Brussels.

I know we have been here before, with JM Le P himself getting close to the presidency on one occasion, but I don't think it will happen for his daughter either, but it raises questions about what turns people towards nationalist politics.

I don't actually think that this is about immigration this time around, but more likely a reaction to the economic crisis, and the tendency for folk to close ranks during times of trouble. The fact that Fonzie - sorry, Sarkozy - is languishing at the bottom of the opinion polls bears out my theory. In fact, I suspect he will be returned to the Presidency when the time comes, not least if he learns the lessons of this week's polls and adapts his presentation accordingly.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Service as Usual - Virtually Non Existant!

"Not in Service"
Today is a nice day. The roads were clear this morning, and traffic was flowing freely. There were also fewer people on the pavements, and best of all, not a single bus to be seen. The buses of Brussels are a menace - drivers are surly, ignorant, and appear to have no idea what their mirrors or indicators are for. Imagine a driver who recently escaped from Alcatraz, a bus that doubles as a recycling dump for vomit and cigarette ends, and roads that resemble the Congo before the aid arrived, and you will have a pretty good picture of a bus journey through the city that likes to think of itself as the "capital of Europe".

The respite on the roads this morning is because there is something of a general strike in Belgium today. They strike a lot in Belgium.

In terms of industrial output this will have a negligible effect, as very little work is ever actually done here on a Friday anyway. It appears that the unions are unhappy about a new legal framework for pay and conditions in the private sector. It does not affect the public sector workers, but isn't it nice to take Friday off anyway and have a long weekend - there are plenty of expats here to get on with the work and keep Belgium's tiny little economy ticking over.