Flemish open door to compromise after quitting Belgian coalition
The Flemish liberal party leader who triggered a political crisis by quitting Belgium's coalition government opened the door to a compromise on Friday, but with an ultimatum attached.
Alexander De Croo on Thursday pulled his Open VLD party out of the five-party coalition, over a long-running row between politicians in Dutch-speaking Flanders and those in francophone Wallonia.
That left the government untenable and Prime Minister Yves Leterme duly offered his resignation, which was still being considered Friday by Belgian King Albert II.
"If those who broke their promises make an effort to fulfil them we could re-evaluate the situation," De Croo told Dutch-language television VRT.
De Croo gave the leaders of the three francophone parties of the government coalition a week to forge an agreement.
Meanwhile the heads of the francophone parties appeared on French-alanguage television to say they were prepared to reopen negotiations with Open VLD but would accept no ultimatum.
"I would happily accept this new opportunity but we cannot fix any deadlines," said Socialist Party President Elio Di Rupo.
"What's important is an agreement, not a date," echoed Joelle Milquet, president of the centrist CDH party.
The intercommunal row centres around the rights of French-speakers living in Flemish suburbs of Brussels.
Those flashpoint towns have become a symbol of a wider crisis in which Flemish leaders are seeking more autonomy for their richer region while Walloons fear moves to splitting Belgium along its linguistic faultline.
The only officially bilingual area of Belgium is the Brussels region. Elsewhere local and regional governments act solely in Dutch or French.
There are also no political parties in Belgium which span the nation, making voting rights for linguistic minorities a key issue.
The latest crisis comes just two months before Belgium is due to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, which has its headquarters in Brussels.
Leterme had only been leading the government for five months, assuming it without election for Herman Van Rompuy who left suddenly last November to become the European Union's first full-time president.
© 2010 AFP