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Today's Top Stories - July 20, 2012
Incentives double for energy-conscious Brussels homeowners
As of today, the Brussels Region will significantly increase a whole range of energy incentives. These will mostly be doubled, and in some cases tripled. The reason behind this drive is simple: between June 2011 and June 2012, the number of applications for ‘eco rebates’ had dropped by 50%. Incentives for outside wall insulation are now doubled; the same applies for installing a condensing boiler or a heat pump. For solar heaters the incentive is increased by half, while for double glazing it will be tripled. As usual, terms and conditions apply, and the amounts reimbursed are capped. For more information, visit the Bruxelles-Environnement website.
Belgium’s National Day is upon us
Do not be alarmed if you find that shops and businesses are closed tomorrow: July 21 is Belgium’s National Day. Besides the traditional military parade on Place des Palais, there will be many other events throughout the day. From 10.00 there will a party in Royal Park (La Fête au Parc), a popular celebration that goes back to the beginning of the 1980s. At 15.00, the B-United world music festival gets started on Place de la Monnaie, with acts from Martinique, Macedonia and Belgium. At 17.00, fans of Belgian food and folklore should go to the flea market where Resto National will host an enormous mussels-and-chips dinner as well as a traditional sing-song. The festivities will come to an end with the annual fireworks display above Place des Palais at 23.00.
Homophobic crimes face heavier sentences
The federal government will today decide to press for heavier sentencing in cases of homophobic violence. A proper government bill will be introduced in the autumn, but the Council of Ministers aim to agree on an early draft during a meeting today. Under the new proposals, homophobic murders could be punished by life imprisonment (as opposed to 20 years now). Perpetrators of acts of homophobia-motivated bodily harm would face a maximum of 30 years in prison, as opposed to five years at the moment. The government wants to send a strong signal in the wake of an increase in acts of homophobic violence, such as last Wednesday in an Aalst bar, when two gay men were beaten to within an inch of their lives (with chairs, bottles and pool cues) simply because of their sexual orientation.
China wants cultural centre in Brussels
The Chinese authorities are actively looking for a prestigious building in the heart of Brussels as the location for a cultural centre, De Morgen writes. After Berlin and Paris, the superpower now wants to be active in the Belgian – and European – capital, ambassador Liao Liqiang told the Flemish newspaper. China wants to boost its reach not only economically but also culturally. “In our cultural centre, people will have the opportunity to go to language classes, see exhibitions and obtain general information about our country,” explains Xang Shihai, the embassy’s cultural advisor. “Chinese cuisine will also be featured, along with our tea culture – a real art in our country”.
Ramadan starts today in Belgium
For Muslims in Belgium, today marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan. It’s a period of abnegation and contemplation for Muslims across the world, when believers refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours and curb any physical excesses and vices. During the month, whose starting date depends on the lunar calendar and thus varies each year, Brussels’ rhythm changes – subtly in some neighbourhoods and dramatically in others. The more Muslim areas are eerily quiet during daytimes, when shops, cafes and restaurants remain shut, until the throng of activity that precedes dusk as Muslims stock up for the night-time meal that breaks the fast – the Iftar, which always starts with the eating of three dates, just as the Prophet Mohammed did 14 centuries ago.
Read Nicholas Hirst’s excellent article about Ramadan in Brussels.