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Coke allowed to resume production in Belgian plants

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Two weeks after the first reports of illnesses from children who drank Coca-Cola soft drinks, the company said it would resume production at two Belgian factories today, under strict conditions imposed by the government.

In neighboring France, meanwhile, the government lifted a ban on canned Coca-Cola drinks produced at a bottling plant in the northern town of Dunkirk, French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said today.The government made its decision based on a recommendation by the government agency in charge of food security, Strauss-Kahn said at a news conference.

Hundreds of people who drank from cans produced in Dunkirk fell ill. Rat poison was detected on the outside of one can, but the exact cause of the illnesses was not detected, said Francois Muguet, a state prosecutor.

"Today, it seems that the product and its packaging are safe, so the sales can start up again," Strauss-Kahn said.

The Belgian government, meanwhile, continued to ban imports on beverages produced at the Coca-Cola plant at Dunkirk, France.

But it agreed Wednesday to allow Coca-Cola to resume production at factories in the Belgian communities of Antwerp and Ghent. Without determining the cause, the country's top health official termed the illnesses an accident.

M. Douglas Ivester, Coca-Cola's chairman, said it would take about two weeks to build up full distribution.

"Quite honestly, we let the people of Belgium down," Ivester said Wednesday.