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Flemish party quits Belgian coalition government

The Flemish liberals, a key part of Belgium’s ruling coalition, announced Thursday they were quitting the government over a row between the Dutch-speaking and francophone communities.

“The Open VLD has lost confidence in the government,” party president Alexander De Croo told reporters after a meeting of leaders of his Dutch-speaking liberal party in Brussels.

The move threatens to destroy the government, an uneasy coalition of two parties from the Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders and three parties from francophone Wallonia in the south.

Open VLD took its decision after lengthy talks between parties from the two lingustic regions failed to reach a deal.

The row centres on special rights which apply to French speakers in the Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde suburbs of Brussels, where around 100,000 French-speakers live.

These Flemish-run communities on the outskirts of the capital have been trying to dissuade French-speakers from moving in, largely by demanding that they speak Dutch, but also by toughly enforcing rules on public housing and seeking to suppress special voting rights.

Talks broke down overnight Wednesday without a deal.

A political crisis would be an embarrassment beyond Belgium’s borders as it is due to assume the EU’s rotating presidency in July for the second half of the year.

The Brussels capital region is the only part of Belgium which is officially bilingual and there are no political parties which operate nationwide.