New setback in Belgium's crisis as king's envoy resigns

26th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

King Albert II's mediator in the country's months-long political crisis is to throw in the towel due to continued deadlock between Dutch and French-speaking leaders, a source close to the talks said Wednesday.

Johan Vande Lanotte three weeks ago tendered his resignation in frustration at the lack of progress but was asked by the sovereign to carry on.

"He will tender his resignation," the source said ahead of a palace encounter later Wednesday between the Flemish socialist go-between and Albert II.

Vande Lanotte has been trying since late October to hammer out a platform enabling leaders of the Dutch north and French south to come together to form a coalition government.

Belgium has been rudderless since a June 13 general election failed to deliver a clear majority, leaving a caretaker government in charge of daily business.

The country of 11 million currently holds Europe's record as the nation longest without a government and faces warnings from ratings agencies of a downgrade failing a cabinet soon.

The king had refused to accept the mediator's resignation on January 6 and hopes were high that the sovereign's insistence would provide incentive to bridge the country's language divide.

Last weekend, Belgium's feuding Flemish and French-speaking leaders came under mounting pressure from the street to form a government when more than 34,000 angry citizens marched across Brussels in a protest organised on Facebook.

"What do we want? We want a government," said the marchers, shouting "Shame!" at the politicians.

The squabble between the seven parties involved in the seven-month-long talks is over a deal to transfer federal powers to the different language communities.

Flemish separatists emerged the leading party in the June election and Dutch speakers -- who represent 60 percent across Belgium -- want more autonomy for their region, notably in fiscal and social policy.

But the French-speaking south fears a loss of subsidies for their once wealthy region as well as the start of a break-up of the country.

© 2011 AFP

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