Leterme becomes PM for second time

Less than a year after he stepped down amid a banking scandal, Yves Leterme became Belgium's prime minister for the second time on Wednesday.


AFP - Less than a year after he stepped down amid a banking scandal, Yves Leterme became Belgium's prime minister for the second time on Wednesday.

Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat who is currently foreign minister, was named by King Albert II after the sudden departure of Herman Van Rompuy last week to become the first European Union president.

The 49-year-old Leterme has already failed twice to resolve power-sharing rivalry between Belgium's rival French and Flemish communities. He is also known for verbal gaffes such as calling his country "an accident of history".

Another former prime minister Wilfried Martens was tasked last week by the king to organise "a quick and efficient transition" after Van Rompuy's departure and Leterne had been widely tipped to take over by Belgian media.

Leterme's party won the last general election in June 2007 but he failed to form a coalition government until the following year.

Leterme was forced out last December after it was alleged his aides had sought to influence a court ruling over the sale of Fortis bank after the financial crisis last year. He was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing however and was politically rehabilitated in July when he was named foreign minister.

"It's now his second chance. He has all the elements to prove he will be a good prime minister. I hope so for him and for Belgium," Van Rompuy said Tuesday.

"I think he's ripened," Martens said.

According to Belgian media, will make an official declaration to parliament later Wednesday and the coalition cabinet crafted by Van Rampuy would remain largely intact.

A smooth transition is important in Belgium where tensions between the Dutch and French-speaking communities are always at the forefront of national politics.

The most thorny issue has been negotiations on the rights of the francophone minority in Flemish suburbs of Brussels, which became a focal point for the communal differences.

Leterme is dubbed "Leterne", or lacklustre, in the Belgian media.

His return could stoke resentment in the relatively poor Francophone community of Wallonia, as he is seen as more stridently Flemish than Van Rompuy in backing richer Dutch-speaking Flanders.

Walloons fear Flemish power-sharing demands could split the kingdom.

Flemish politicians have dominated recent governments.

Martens, Van Rompuy and Leterme are all members of the Flemish Christian Democrats.

Leterme stunned Belgium by singing France's "La Marseillaise" when asked by a reporter if he knew the Belgian national anthem.

Other gaffes included saying that all the Belgian people share is "the king, the national football team and certain beers."

He disparaged French speakers in 2006 as lacking the "intellectual capacity" to learn Dutch and stoked controversy by calling his country an "accident of history" and saying it has no "intrinsic value" as a state.

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