Brussels, Belgium (AP) -- It may have been a practical joke with a practical purpose but few, if any, people in Belgium are laughing.
State television broke into regular programming last night with an urgent bulletin: the Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane.
Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This Is Fiction."
It was too late. Many frantic Belgians had already fallen for the hoax.
The hoax struck a nerve in Belgium, where there has traditionally been tension between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south.
The network defended the program, saying it showed the importance of debate on the future of Belgium.
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