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Latest update : 2008-12-30

Belgium's new Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy has started talks with the divided country's friction-ridden parties in the hope of forming a coalition government, 10 days after the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

AFP - Herman Van Rompuy, a Flemish conservative, started talks Monday on the thankless task of forming a new coalition government in Belgium that few expect to last long.
Perennial friction between French and Flemish speakers and upcoming regional elections are all stacked against Van Rompuy who was asked Sunday by King Albert II to form an administration, 10 days after the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
He started talks with parties in the ruling coalition: his own Flemish Christian Democrat (CDV) and the Liberal parties, and Francophone Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists.
The five partners agreed last week to form a new and identical government, with the exception of Leterme and justice minister Jo Vandeurzen.
They resigned on December 19 after being accused of pressuring judges to agree a rescue plan for Fortis bank, a victim of the international economic crisis.
Late Monday Van Rompuy said on public radio RTBF that an agreement on a new government could be finalised on Tuesday, describing the day's consultations as "positive".
But according to political scientist Jean Faniel "there are still some aspects to negotiate."
It is not completely certain that Van Rompuy will take over as prime minister, as he has to find someone to replace him as parliamentary speaker, he noted.
Belgium is a country where any change to the division of jobs at federal level can upset the precarious balance between the two communities.
If he forms a government Van Rompuy, who accepted his mission with reluctance, will face a number of challenges.
These include agreeing a 2009 budget, still in suspense; a relaunch package to combat the economic crisis; a lasting solution to the Fortis problems; and inter-communal tensions exacerbated by the approach of regional elections in June.
"Will he be up to the job?" asked the Francophone daily La Libre Belgique.
Van Rompuy, a self-effacing politician well-versed in the intricate details of Belgian-style politics, is very different from Leterme, whose statements often upset the French-speaking community.
But "he runs the risk of using himself up during the next months," said the Flemish daily the Gazet Van Antwerpen.
"The head of the government's mission is hopeless," said the Flemish daily De Standaard.
"Because our federal government is not the government of one country but of two very different countries which ... have a different view of what the government should be and what it should do."
Rival Flemish-speaking and Francophone parties have been at loggerheads for a year and a half over demands for greater autonomy for Flanders, a clash that has revived fears the country could fall apart.
"The election campaign should focus on the issues of the country's future," said Faniel.
"If the stakes are raised again during this campaign that is not going to help the dialogue at the federal level."
In that case Van Rompuy would "not would not have better weapons" at his disposal than Leterme, who had to face a virtually continuous crisis after the June 2007 general election because of the conflict between the communities.
The coalition partners agreed Friday on a provisional government to rule until an early general election at the same time as the June regional polls.
But there is no guarantee that an administration headed by Van Rompuy would last until the general election due to take place in 2011.
"It is only a commitment, But what can happen between now and then?" said Faniel, pointing out the country has only had nine months of stable government since the 2007 general election.

Date created : 2008-12-30