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Funny Protests Break Out As Belgium Sets 'No Government' Record

Cedric Cauderlier (second from left) and friends grow beards "for Belgium."
Cedric Cauderlier (second from left) and friends grow beards "for Belgium."
At midnight tonight, Belgium will claim the world record for the number of days it has been without an agreement on a government, overtaking the previous record holder, Iraq.

February 18 will mark 250 days since June's inconclusive national elections in which the diametrically opposed New Flemish Alliance and the Francophone Socialist Party won the most seats.

With the former wanting the gradual secession of Flanders and the latter in favor of unity, deadlock has ensued.

The beleaguered Belgian King, Albert II, has since invited politicians of various stripes to stitch together a broad coalition to represent his subjects, consisting of 6 million Dutch-speakers and 4.5 million Francophones -- an effort that has yet to bear fruit.

As a nation fond of its surrealist art and comic strips, the Belgians are resolutely refusing to take the problem too seriously.

Let's Grow A Beard

Cedric Cauderlier is leading a "protest" movement that he hopes politicians will take notice of. He has created a website called "Beard For Belgium", where men -- and women -- can send in pictures of themselves adorned with facial hair, real or otherwise.

More than 1,000 pictures have streamed in since January when a Belgian actor called on his countrymen not to shave until there is a government in place.

Caudelier said that point is to send a message, "To say that we are still waiting for a government, we are living in Belgium, we are Belgians and we would like you to find a solution."

Beard-growing is just one of several unusual actions being taken in what's being dubbed Belgium's "Fries Revolution."

A Belgian senator has urged her fellow colleagues to abstain from sex until a government is formed.

In the Flemish university city of Ghent, students have promised to strip.

In Leuven, just outside Brussels, people will hand out free French fries.

And in several other cities people will simply party and have a good time.

Cauderlier is, however, content just to grow a beard at the moment.

"It is easy," he said. "There is no violence behind it. It is not a handicap in the day-by-day life. It is easy to do, it is quick to do.”

But as if to illustrate the not-so-serious nature of his protest, Cauderlier himself has not gone too far in his beard-growing efforts.

Expecting to meet a sort of youthful Santa Claus, our correspondent was surprised to find that Cauderlier, in fact, was only sporting around three days' growth. He said growing a beard gives him "an allergic reaction."
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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