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As part of an effort to promote local and regional tourism, Chièvres Air Base in Belgium plans to open its door Saturday to the public, at least part way.

The gesture marks the first time in more than a decade the air base will be accessible to the public, said Marie-Lise Baneton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. The air base, which supports the Supreme Allied Commander Europe in nearby Mons, is an Army-run installation.

Baneton said the last time the facility was opened to the public was for an air show in 1996. As is the case elsewhere, security concerns since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States have made such overtures far less likely.

Billed as the Fall Friendship Festival, Saturday’s gathering at the base will run from noon to 11 p.m. Only the industrial side of the base will be open to the public.

There will be static displays of Army and Air Force equipment, music, carnival rides, a show of birds of prey and other activities, as well as hot food and cold drinks.

“We want to give the Belgian people a chance to have a little taste of America,” Baneton said. “We’re going to show America’s diversity.”

The theme will reflect 40 years of U.S. military presence in Chièvres. The American military moved into this small Belgian town from France in March 1967. Today, the ties between the two run fairly deep.

While the air base will attract many Belgians, Americans who venture into downtown Chièvres either Saturday or Sunday can enjoy many activities, all part of the “Welcome to Wallonie” campaign.

Aside from booths, bars and restaurants, visitors can tour some of the more interesting sites such as the Bread Museum. Additionally, a demonstration is planned for the pastime known as crossage, a wild game that resembles golf and is played every Ash Wednesday in the streets of Chièvres.


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