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Belgium parties agree to form govt with Michel as PM

Belgium’s main centre-right parties agreed Tuesday to form a coalition with French-speaking liberal Charles Michel as prime minister, ending a five-month period since elections without a government.

Michel — who at 38 becomes one of Europe’s youngest leaders and Belgium’s youngest since 1840 — replaces the socialist Elio di Rupo.

The breakthrough came after months of negotiations but is still far shorter than Belgium’s previous wait for leadership in 2010, when it took politicians 18 months to form a national government, a world record.

But the new government is likely to face the same problems as before, most notably a bitter division between Belgium’s Flemish-speaking north, which tends to be more conservative, and a French-speaking, more liberal south.

The coalition agreed on Tuesday groups three Flemish conservative parties and Michel’s French-speaking liberals.

Belgium’s King Philippe, who plays an important constitutional role, tasked Michel and Flemish Christian Democrat leader Kris Peeters to form a government back in July.

Over the years, greater powers have been devolved to the regions to ease communal tensions, with separate governments elected in Flanders, Wallonia and for the bilingual Brussels capital region.

Michel began his rapid rise to power in the shadow of his father Louis Michel, a former minister and European commissioner, and has been part of the Belgian political landscape for more than 15 years.