Thousands of Belgians have taken to the streets of Brussels to protest against their politicians six-month failure to form a government.
|Demonstrators paraded through the city,|
many carrying balloons or flags [AFP]
The demonstration on Saturday, called by Belgium's three main trade unions, drew attention to the economic effects of the political crisis.
"People are fed up with the discussions between the political parties. This is a very serious warning to the parties to take care of the people," Bernard Noel, one of the union leaders said.
Police put the number of demonstrators at 18,000, while organisers estimated 25,000 people had turned up.
Belgium's political parties have always been divided linguistically between the country's Flemish north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia.
Attempts to form a new coalition government since elections six months ago have repeatedly failed.
This has left Belgium with a caretaker government under Guy Verhofstadt, the outgoing prime minister, which has been unable to take policy decisions.
Public anger has grown recently over the political paralysis, which many say has begun to have an economic effect.
The European Commission has warned that the political crisis was beginning to hit the country's economy.
Combined with high corn and oil prices in the 13-nation euro zone, which includes Belgium, inflation in the country is now running at its highest level in over six years.
"Potato prices have gone up by 30 per cent in a short time. The politicians knew compromise was necessary and people feel they should stop their silly games," Noel said.
Belgium's business community has watched with increasing concern the toll the political paralysis is having on the economy and worry about the possible impact on foreign investment.
Claude Rolin, another union leader, said the demonstration was being held "to sound an alarm".
"Today, it's the three trade unions that are saying clearly to the political and economic forces that purchasing power must be reinforced and a federal social security system based on solidarity must be maintained."
Demonstrators paraded through the city amid a sea of balloons and green, red and blue flags - the trade unions' colours.
In the afternoon, they met Verhofstadt, who "listened attentively to their demands," according to a spokeswoman for one of the unions.
"We hope it can now be carried forward on the political level," she said.
While Belgium's politicians are divided, the trade unions are among the few organisations that still function on a federal basis.
Combined they represent some three million of Belgium's population of 10.5 million people.