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Belgian far right shows strong early gains in national election

Belgian far right shows strong early gains in national election
A woman walks past election campaign billboards in Brussels, Belgium May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir Copyright FRANCOIS LENOIR(Reuters)
Copyright FRANCOIS LENOIR(Reuters)
By Reuters
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Far-right Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang looked on course for major gains in an election on Sunday for the Belgian national parliament.

Belgium held a "Super Sunday" of European, national and regional elections, which was expected to result in a shift to the right in more prosperous Dutch-speaking Flanders and to the left in French-speaking Wallonia.

A handful of initial results showed the anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang gaining across Dutch-speaking Flanders at the expense of the more moderate separatist N-VA party, who had participated in the last federal government.

In the French-speaking south of the country, an exit poll conducted for broadcaster RTL, showed the Socialists (PS) of former prime minister Elio di Rupo were set to be the biggest party, followed by current Prime Minister Charles Michel's liberal MR party.

The initial results and exit polls suggest the linguistically divided country could take some time to form a federal coalition.

Michel, 43, has been running the country of 11 million people in a caretaker capacity since December and could face many more months in that role as party leaders seek to form a new coalition after the vote.

In 2010, that task took a world record 541 days until Di Rupo finally took office.

Belgium effectively runs two separate elections in the Dutch and French-speaking regions, with no national parties, after which it somehow has to weld together a federal government from both sides of the linguistic divide.

People in other European Union countries are also voting on Sunday in elections for the European Parliament, which are expected to dent traditional pro-EU parties and bolster the nationalist fringe.

But some exit polls in countries that have already voted have given pro-EU parties some comfort.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour party looks to have finished first, with a weak showing for eurosceptics.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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