Bid to forge government collapses

24th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

Bid to forge government collapses

24 August 2007

BRUSSELS (AP) - Prime Minister-designate Yves Leterme's bid to form a centre-right government collapsed Thursday after all-night negotiations failed to resolve a deadlock over the sharing of power among federal authorities and rival Dutch- and French-speaking regions.

After five weeks of fruitless negotiations, Leterme resigned his mandate to form a government to King Albert, who interrupted his vacation in France and flew back to Brussels Thursday evening.

The monarch is expected to ask a Francophone politician to sound out political leaders on what government should be formed based on the 10 June election results.

Leterme said he found "it impossible at the moment to draft an ambitious government program requested by voters" in the elections from which Christian Democrats and Liberals - split into Dutch and French-speaking camps - emerged as the biggest winners.

He had been trying since 16 July to form a centre-right government but French-speakers resisted Flemish demands for more regional self-rule. There is also discord over economic and social policies.

French-speaking politicians fear Flemish demands for greater regional control in areas such as employment, transport and justice could undermine Belgium as a federal state. They have made counter-demands for more rights for the Francophone minority living in Flemish areas.

In Belgium, almost everything - from cable companies and the boy scouts to health insurance providers and pigeon racing clubs - is split into Dutch- and French-speaking camps.

After a rare round of consultations by King Albert last weekend failed to make headway, the leader of the French-speaking Liberals, Didier Reynders, gave Leterme until Thursday to draft a complete government program and propose a solution to the self-rule issue.

Belgium is divided between the Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and the capital, Brussels, which is officially bilingual. About 6.5 million Belgians speak Dutch, compared with 3.5 million Francophones.

Since the country adopted a federal system in the 1980s, powers over areas such as housing, trade and culture have been handed to regional authorities, but many Flemish politicians want more autonomy.

The difficulty in assembling a government has coincided with traditional summertime rallies by independence-minded Flemish groups. On Sunday, up to 5,000 people gathered in a field in West Flanders to hear passionate speeches deriding Walloon politicians and urging the Flemish regional parliament to declare independence. This weekend, a larger demonstration is planned.

Central to the dispute in the government talks are the rights granted to the substantial French-speaking minority living in districts around Brussels which are officially in Dutch-speaking territory.

Flemish politicians want to break up a bilingual voting district to stop French-speaking parties running for elections in Flemish suburbs around the capital.

The Francophones say they will agree only if they get a strengthening of their language rights in more Flemish suburbs _ such as being able to use French in dealings with their town halls. That is rejected by the Flemish.

[Copyright AP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news

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