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Belgian king holds back on PM resignation offer

Latest update : 2008-07-16

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme has presented his government's resignation to King Albert, according to his spokesman. Leterme had set a July 15 deadline to broker a deal between squabbling Dutch and French-speaking parties.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered his government's resignation to the king Monday after talks on a larger degree of autonomy for the country's Flemish-speaking region failed, a source close to the government said.
   
"He will present his government's resignation," the source told AFP under cover of anonymity.
   
"It's an admission of a complete deadlock on community questions, combined with the fact the government will not be able to present an agreement on reforming the state by July 15," as Leterme had promised, the source said.
   
Leterme, a Christian Democrat of mixed Walloon and Flemish descent, only took office in March, nine months after elections, when his appointment temporarily ended one of Belgium's worst political crises yet.
   
The 48-year-old conservative "is with the king," the prime minister's spokesman, Jerome Hardy, confirmed at about 11:30 pm (2130 GMT) Monday, without giving further details.
   
A statement from the palace of King Albert II, the head of state, was expected after they emerge from the closed door meeting.
   
The king could accept Leterme's resignation, refuse it or put off a decision for several days to give him time to assess the political situation.
   
Talks between Flemish and French-speakers, the kingdom's two main linguistic communities, had earlier ended without agreement on Leterme's latest proposals for reform, which focused on devolving federal powers down to the regions.
   
Leterme had set himself the deadline of July 15 to reconcile the parties from Flanders -- representing some 60 percent of Belgium's 10.5 million people -- and Wallonia on a way to extensively reform the federal state.
   
Flanders, Belgium's Dutch-speaking northern half, craves more regional powers to reflect its prosperity. It also resents subsidising the less affluent, French-speaking Wallonia region to its south.
   
After last year's crisis, French speakers accepted to enter into reform talks, realising that it was perhaps the only way to stop Belgium breaking up.
   
Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, who leads the French-speaking Liberals, said he was "saddened that the social and economic work undertaken (to solve the crisis) was threatened".
   
The French-speaking Socialists, who are also part of the government coalition, regretted that "the prime minister had to hand in his resignation to the king when the institutional negotiations could have been pursued in a constructive and positive way".
   
A recent opinion poll found that 49.7 percent of Flemish people are in favour of Belgium splitting into its two main linguistic halves.
   
Yet despite the risks, French speakers have rejected any attempt to break "national solidarity" by, for example, dividing up the social security system into regional branches for each linguistic community.
   
Another problem the premier had to solve was the Flemish demand for a special voting district around Brussels to be split up.
   
This would in effect do away with an arrangement that allows French-speakers in the Flemish suburbs to vote for Francophone politicians in the capital, where they are in the majority.
  

Date created : 2008-07-15

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