BRUSSELS: Belgian television viewers jammed telephone lines and crashed a website when a broadcasting hoax persuaded thousands that part of the country had declared independence and the king had fled.

RTBF, the TV station based in the French-speaking south, Wallonia, announced just after the evening news that the Flemish Parliament in the North had voted for secession from the federal state.

Over the next ninety minutes, trusted TV anchors fielded a spectacular special report including live footage from the royal palace, where an emotional crowd had gathered to protest for the survival of their country.

A reporter in the Congo commented on rumors that King Albert II had arrived in former Belgian colony.

A parade of prominent politicians and public figures opined on the grave development, and there was even a report of jubilation among Catalans keen to separate their region from Spain.

The ensuing panic - though not quite as hysterical as that inspired by the famous War of the Worlds US radio broadcast in 1938 - eventually persuaded RBTF to issue a "This is fiction" disclaimer at the bottom of the screen.

Political leaders in both halves of the country condemned the program, but it was defended by the broadcaster saying it showed the importance of debate on the future of Belgium in advance of a general election next year.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff