King Albert calls for unity on Belgium's national day

In a speech to celebrate the Belgian national day on Sunday, King Albert II reiterated his commitment to a united Belgium, days after he refused Prime Minister Yves Leterme's offer of resignation amidst a 6 month-long constitutional crisis.


Belgium's King Albert II appealed on Sunday for "union and tolerance," as efforts continued to solve the country's political crisis between its French-speaking and Flemish communities.

But some observers thought they also detected approval for some kind of institutional change.

"Our country is going through serious political difficulties," he said in his traditional speech to the nation on the eve of Belgium's national holiday, broadcast separately in French- and Dutch-language versions.

"But I would like to remind you that difficulties and crises are also opportunities to bounce back, to rally," he added.

"Division in our spirits is not fatal, union and tolerance with respect to each federal entity is the only possible way forward in our democratic society."

The king invoked the the memory of his brother King Baudouin's commitment for cohesion. Baudouin died in 1993.

"King Baudouin was a strong advocate for the unity and the cohesion of the country while respecting its diversity," he said.

His brother had been convinced that the multi-cultural character of the country was the country's strength, he added.

But the king also said: "We must invent new ways of living together in our country."

Herve de Ghellinck, chief political analyst for Belgium's French-language broadcasters RTBF took that as a clear signal.

"He is saying clearly that we must have a real institutional overhaul."

The king has instructed three senior politicians to try to find a solution to Flemish demands for greater autonomy and federal reform. They must report back by July 31.

The Belgian media said the king was "prudent" for only devoting a small part of his 12-minute speech to the institutional crisis and instead talking largely about poverty, unemployment, Africa and youth suicide.

The speech had to be approved by Belgium's Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who this week offered his resignation to the king only to have it refused.

Flemish nationalists on Saturday threatened to pull out of Leterme's troubled coalition by the end of the month.

Flanders, Belgium's Dutch-speaking northern half, has long sought more regional powers to reflect its prosperity. It also resents subsidising the less affluent, French-speaking Wallonia region to its south.

Leterme has been trying to solve the political crisis since March, when he took office for a third attempt at forming a government after nine months following the June 2007 elections when Belgium was without formal leadership.


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