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Belgium

country brussels north region

Belgium, kingdom of northwestern Europe, bordered to the west by France, to the east by Luxembourg and Germany, and to the north by the Netherlands. Belgium is one of Europe's most densely populated countries.

Land and climate

The region called Flanders borders the North Sea and is mostly flat plain with sandy beaches; further inland, the country is intensively cultivated, and is drained by the Leie, Schelde, and Dender rivers. Central Belgium consists of a low plateau that is also a rich agricultural area. At the southern end of this plateau is the Sambre-Meuse valley, the main industrial and coal-mining region. About 25% of all Belgians live in this area of only 800 sq mi (2,000 sq km). The country has a generally temperate climate.

People

Belgium is linguistically, culturally, and politically divided. A line running from east to west, just south of Brussels, divides the Flemish-speaking Flemings in the north from the French-speaking Walloons in the south. Both languages are in official use.

Economy

Belgium is not rich in natural resources, except for the coal deposits of the Sambre-Meuse valley and the Kempenland region. Its high standard of living derives from successful manufacturing industries, which account for 30% of the gross national product. The chief commodities, include textiles, glass, chemicals, metal and machine goods, and diamonds; Antwerp is one of the world's leading diamond centers. Brussels (the capital), Bruges, and Mechelen are noted for lace. Belgium's numerous small farms provide about 80% of the country's food needs. Belgium's excellent system of transportation, including fine inland waterways and well-equipped ports at Antwerp and Ghent, facilitate the foreign trade that has made the country prosperous.

History

The kingdom emerged in the 1830s, when it seceded from the Netherlands, and in 1839 Belgium was recognized as a perpetually neutral sovereign state. In 1914 the Germans invaded and occupied the country for the next 4 years. In May 1940 Germany again violated Belgian neutrality, invading Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg simultaneously. Belgian forces capitulated in June 1940, but Belgian resistance forces fought alongside the Allies until the country was liberated in 1944. Belgium was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1950. It also helped to establish the European Economic Community (EEC), which was to become part of the European Community (EC), with headquarters in Brussels. After 1995 several large-scale vice scandals and political scandals took place in Belgium.

See also: Brussels.

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