Vlaams Belang (3)

Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang has become the latest populist European party to make significant electoral gains. The anti-immigration Flemish separatist party won a host of seats in regional elections yesterday.

As results came in, Frank Vanhecke, the party's chairman, described the vote as a "landslide" and added: "There is no way to disregard this victory."

Early results showed the party had gained 5.6 percentage points to reach 20.6 per cent in the 308 municipal councils across Flanders, the northern Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and surged beyond its traditional stronghold in Antwerp.

However in Antwerp itself, Belgium's second largest city, the party appeared to be simply treading water, winning the same one third of the vote that it captured in the last regional elections. That made it far from clear that the Vlaams Belang, which means Flemish Interest, had made enough progress to force other parties to allow it to share power.

Nevertheless its continued progress is the latest example of success by populist right-wing parties which have prospered in Slovakia, Poland, Germany and France.

Led by Filip Dewinter, a former journalist, the Vlaams Belang has become the biggest electoral force in Flanders.