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AP, June 9, 1999

Belgian PM's wife calls
dioxin crisis "a plot"

By Leslie Adler

BRUSSELS, June 10 (Reuters) - The wife of Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene said on Thursday the country's crisis over dioxin contamination was a plot against the government, adding she was not changing her eating habits.

Celia Dehaene, pictured on the front page of tabloid La Derniere Heure seasoning a raw chicken on a grill, told the newspaper, "We are continuing to eat everything."

She added, "Last weekend we had a barbecue in the garden, with a group of children, and we ate all sorts of things -- like chicken and lamb. I'm not worried."

Dehaene defended her husband's government, which has been the subject of increasing criticism over its handling of the affair. The government failed to notify the European Commission or Belgian citizens of the problem until four weeks after it received confirmation of the contamination of animal feed with the cancer-causing chemical dioxin.

The feed has been traced to the Verkest fats processing firm, but how the dioxin entered the fats remains unknown.

"In my view, this entire affair is a frame-up," Dehaene told the newspaper. "And, as usual, it's my husband who has to take care of things," she said.

The crisis continued to dominate news coverage, with colour photographs of dead chickens splayed across front pages.

On Wednesday the government almost doubled the list of potentially contaminated poultry farms to more than 1,500 after a feed supplier said three instead of one of its companies had used fat from the Verkest firm at the centre of the storm.

"Absolute chaos," blared the front page headline in Dutch-language daily Het Laatste Nieuws below a photograph of dead chickens hanging by their feet.

"Close to Desperation," the Gazet van Antwerpen said of the surprise adjustment to the blacklist of suspect chicken farms.

The paper called Wednesday's events "a farce" after the government initially removed the ban on chicken slaughtering only to reimpose it later the same day.

"Crazy!," Het Volk said of the off-again, on-again ban on slaughtering. Inside, an irate farmer accused the government of driving the farm sector into extinction.

La Libre Belgique, in an editorial, referred to Belgium as a "non-state."


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