The week in brief: 20 December


Government limits Belgacom CEO salary, gay bashing on the Grote Markt and Flanders' word of the year

An overview of the week's news

The federal government’s decision to limit the annual salary of the new CEO of Belgacom to €650,000 means the new boss will earn less than some of the directors sitting on the company’s board. Belgacom’s board consists of six directors, who together make €6.9 million a year, or €1.15 million each on average. The highest earner is acting CEO Ray Stewart at €1.4 million. The government decision affects the CEOs of Belgacom and Bpost as state-owned enterprises, but does not affect the two companies’ directors. At Bpost, meanwhile, the five directors earn on average €650,000, the same as the new salary of CEO Johnny Thijs.

Public transport in Brussels will be free from midnight until 5.00 on 1 January, MIVB said. The transport authority plans to lay on extra trams around the royal palace to allow people to attend the fireworks display; trams between Louiza and Kruidtuin will be suspended to allow more space for visitors but will be replaced by a metro connection on lines 2 and 6. Metro lines 1, 2, 5 and 6 will run until 2.00, as will several tram lines, including 19, 92 and 93. Noctis night buses will run until 5.00.

Doctors have warned of a possible epidemic of scabies, following three outbreaks in Flanders last week – in a children’s ward of Ghent University Hospital, in a rest home in Averbode in Flemish Brabant and in a student home in Turnhout, Antwerp province. Scabies is a skin condition caused by a mite and spread by physical contact; it is easily treated with a medicinal lotion. Dr Hilde Lapeere of UZ Gent called on GPs to break the taboo that surrounds the disease and explain the risks to patients.

Brussels police are conducting an internal investigation into allegations that a young gay man was beaten on the Grote Markt in Brussels in front of two police officers who refused to intervene. The man, a Brazilian student, said he was attacked after being threatened by two men, who punched him in the face and broke his spectacles. When he went to the officers for help, “one of them told me he’d be the next to punch me if I didn’t keep quiet,” he said. “When we tried to explain what had happened, they said they had better things to do.” The two attackers have not been traced.

The VRT investigative programme Panorama has been awarded this year’s Human Rights Prize by the League for Human Rights. The programme’s subjects such as cyber-war, surveillance and poverty “always succeed in provoking public debate,” the league said, with “reporting on ‘forgotten’ issues that place them in a new light or bring them out into the open”. This week a court in Antwerp re-opened the case of a man who died in police custody in 2010 following a segment in Panorama earlier this year.

The word of the year in Flanders is “selfie” – a photograph taken of oneself. The word was voted into first place by listeners to VRT radio and visitors to the website of Van Dale dictionaries. “Selfie” was also recently voted word of the year in the UK and the Netherlands. Among young people, the favourite word was “swag”, meaning a self-assured manner, or swagger.

Flemish actor and comedian Stany Crets has been named the head of Musical van Vlaanderen (MvV), at the same time as the non-profit organisation is changing its name to Theater Publiek. The musical theatre organisation’s previous director, Geert Allaert, came under fire for his double role as the artistic director of the government-subsidised MvV and managing director of the profit-making Music Hall Group, which owns a number of theatres in Flanders. The new Theater Publiek will not produce musicals alone: The first production under the new name will be a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The spicy cake known as vlaaike from Lier, Antwerp province, and hop shoots from Poperinge, West Flanders, have been awarded the European status of protected geographical denomination. The status prevents similar products elsewhere from using the same name. Lierse vlaaike is a small cake filled with a mix of candy syrup, milk and spices. Hop shoots have been considered a delicacy since the 19th century, often fetching high prices. The first crop of hop shoots this year was bought by three Michelin-star Dutch chef Sergio Herman for the record price of €124.80 for 100 grams.

Visitors to Brussels can now enjoy a new way of looking at the city, from the top of the Skyliner. The attraction, installed last weekend on the Paleizenplein, lifts visitors 85 metres into the air on a revolving platform that offers a 360-degree view of the horizon. The ride costs €8 for adults and €5 for children.

The barn owl has been named Bird of the Year for 2014 by bird protection organisation Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen (VV). The barn owl (Tyto alba) is a protected species known in Flanders as kerkuil, or church owl. From a low point of only 23 breeding pairs in 1982, the bird has now grown to about 1,000 pairs, although the 2013 breeding season was a failure because of a difficult winter, VV said. The organisation plans additional protective measures for the owl in the coming year.

The University of Leuven has reinstated researcher Barbara Van Dyck, who was sacked after taking part in a demonstration against genetically modified crops in Wetteren. Protesters damaged a test crop of potatoes during the demonstration. Van Dyck was dismissed by former rector Mark Waer, and his successor, Rik Torfs, stressed that his decision to overturn the sacking did not signify support for the protest. “But we stand for the freedom of expression,” he said, “and we cannot simply dismiss employees because of their convictions.”