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Brussels blog by some wire service journalists

The great chestnut trees of Europe are dying

By RAF CASERT

GHENT, Belgium (AP) — Visit the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris and chestnut trees greet you as you wander among graves of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

When Anne Frank was in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, the view of a monumental chestnut tree was one thing that cheered her up.

In Cambridge, England, the two-century-old chestnut standing outside King’s College chapel has become a beloved icon.

In all those places — and over much of Europe — the horse chestnut tree is under threat.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Belgian pedophile accomplice gets early release

Michelle Martin

By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS (AP) — A woman who let two 8-year-old girls starve in a cellar and helped her pedophile husband carry out horrific abuse of other girls went from prison to a convent Tuesday, outraging Belgians who opposed the early release of one of the country’s most despised criminals.

The nation’s highest court approved Michelle Martin’s release after serving 16 years of a 30-year prison term for her role in the mid-1990s kidnappings, rapes and killings by her then-husband, Marc Dutroux.

Martin left prison in an unmarked vehicle late Tuesday for a Clarisse convent in Malonne, a 75-kilometer (45-mile) trip south of the capital, where her lawyer said she will seek atonement for her crimes. Over 100 people shouted insults at her as she arrived, some trying to break through police barriers.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Belgians fear pedophile’s ex-wife may be freed

Michelle Martin

By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS — Even after all these years, the mere mention of the name “Marc Dutroux” can wipe the smile off the face of almost any Belgian.

And now that the convicted pedophile and killer’s ex-wife — an accomplice who let two of his victims starve to death — is on the verge of release, Belgium is being forced to relive some of its darkest moments.

On Tuesday, the nation’s highest court will likely approve grantingMichelle Martin conditional freedom, even though she served little more than half of the 30-year sentence she was given for her part in the mid-1990s kidnappings, rapes and killings. One of Belgium’s most loathed criminals could walk free within hours or days afterward.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Belgian official says possible new cracks in reactor vessels unrelated to those found in 1979

The Doel 3 nuclear reactor

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS (AP) — Cracks in the steel reactor vessels of two nuclear plants in Belgium were found in 1979, three years before they came online, but they are unrelated to possible cracks discovered this summer, a spokeswoman for the country’s nuclear regulatory agency said Thursday.

Belgium’s nuclear regulator announced this month that ultrasonic tests showed possible hairline cracks in the vessel housing the reactor at the Doel 3 nuclear plant near Antwerp. The plant was offline for a regular safety check, and it has yet to be determined whether it will ever go online again.

The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control also ordered the shutdown of the Tihange 2 reactor, 90 kilometers (55 miles) southeast of Brussels, for checks because it had a vessel manufactured by the same company.

De Morgen newspaper reported Thursday that its archives showed it had reported that cracks were found in the reactor vessels of both plants 33 years ago. It quoted a 1980 article as saying, “question marks exist over small cracks in the inlet and outlet sections” of the reactor vessels. The paper also quoted a government official as telling the Senate in 1979 that there were possible cracks.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Belgian authorities share information with other countries on possible flaw in nuclear plant

Doel 3 nuclear facility

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — The head of Belgium’s nuclear regulatory agency said Thursday that a nuclear plant near Antwerp, where tests revealed possible hairline cracks in the vessel housing the reactor’s core, may never come online again.

Willy De Roovere made the comments after meeting in Brussels with technical experts from eight other countries, both to update them on the situation at the Doel 3 plant, which is north of Antwerp, and to exchange expertise on reactor vessel integrity and inspections. De Roovere leads Belgium’s Agence Federal de Controle Nucleaire, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control.

The technical experts invited to the meeting came from the U.S., France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.

The possible cracks in the steel vessel _ “flaw indications,” De Roovere called them _ were revealed by ultrasonic tests this summer during a regular shutdown and safety inspection of the plant. He said such inspections are carried out on Belgian nuclear plants every 12-18 months and, in this case, worked exactly as intended.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Increasing stereotypes threaten European unity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — Maybe the problem is those southerners lolling in the Mediterranean sun who overspent and tax-dodged their way to ruin. Or maybe it’s the northerners, rigid beyond reason, so gloomy in their own lives that they’re determined to see the southerners suffer.

Such, at least, are the resentful stereotypes that are increasingly jumping from pub conversation and tabloid pages into the mainstream political discourse.

It’s all a sign that a psychological fissure between northern and southern countries in the European Union is deepening under the strain of the financial crisis. Analysts say the rift threatens Europe’s currency union every bit as much as interest rates and deficits.

“National resentments in Europe are rising to dramatic levels,” said Vincent Forest, a London-based economist with the Economist Intelligence Unit. “By taking so much time in solving the economic crisis, the Europeans are creating a political and social crisis.”

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Ex-wife of Belgian pedophile set for early release

Image

By ROBERT WIELAARD and DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS (AP) — The ex-wife of a notorious pedophile who aided her husband’s horrific abuse and murder of young girls — and who let two children starve to death while her husband was in jail — was approved Tuesday for early release from prison, infuriating the victims’ parents and reopening a dark chapter in Belgian history.

Michelle Martin, who is now 52, received a 30-year prison term in 2004 for not freeing girls her then-husband Marc Dutroux held captive behind a secret door in their decrepit, dirty basement in Marcinelle, 40 miles south of Brussels.

Dutroux, 55, is serving a life term for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, and murdering four of them.

During those years, Dutroux also spent four months in jail for theft, leaving it to his wife to feed Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, a pair of friends imprisoned in the basement. Martin let the girls starve to death. They were 8 years old.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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EU begins investigation of Microsoft for failing to offer choice of browsers

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, announced Tuesday that it was opening an investigation into whether Microsoft has kept the antitrust commitments it made in 2009, and warned that penalties for non-compliance would be “severe.”

Microsoft conceded it had “fallen short” of meeting its obligation to provide the “browser choice screen,” or BCS. The choice screen would allow users of Microsoft’s Windows operating systems to select a browser other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

“Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7,” Microsoft said in a statement.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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EU extends Spain’s deficit timeline by 1 year

Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindo, right, with ECB chief Mario Draghi

By DON MELVIN and SLOBODAN LEKIC

BRUSSELS — The European Union worked towards stabilizing Spain’s finances Tuesday as it backed up the blueprint for the country’s €100 billion bank bailout plan with plans to grant the country an extra year to cut its budget deficit.

Finance ministers from the 27 EU countries, meeting in Brussels, approved extending Spain’s deadline for achieving a budget deficit of less than 3 percent of its annual economic output, until 2014, said Vassos Shiarly, Cyprus’ finance minister and chair of the meeting. The size of Spain’s economy in 2011 is estimated to have been $1.5 trillion.

The move comes on the heels of an overnight meeting at which the 17 euro area finance ministers agreed on the terms of a bailout for Spain’s troubled banks, saying that the first €30 billion ($36.88 billion) in aid can be ready by the end of this month.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

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European Parliament overwhelmingly rejects ACTA anti-piracy pact

A protester in Poland shows his opposition to ACTA

By DON MELVIN

The European Parliament overwhelmingly defeated the international ACTA anti-piracy trade agreement Wednesday after concern that it would limit Internet freedom mobilized broad opposition across Europe.

The vote — 39 in favor, 478 against and 165 abstentions — means that as far as the EU is concerned the treaty is finished, at least for the moment, though other countries may well participate.

Supporters had said ACTA — the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — was needed to standardize international laws that protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion goods and other products that often fall victim to piracy and intellectual property theft. Opponents feared it would lead to censorship and a loss of privacy on the Internet.

Many other countries — including the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea — also have signed the trade agreement, though no one has ratified it yet, and the EU vote won’t affect them.

David Martin, a member of the Parliament from Scotland and the person who reported to the European Parliament on the proposal, said before Wednesday’s vote that the agreement was dead. “No emergency surgery, no transplant, no long period of recuperation is going to save ACTA,” Martin said. “It’s time to give it its last rites. It’s time to allow its friends to mourn and for the rest of us to get on with our lives.”

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Don Melvin

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