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King in new push to end political crisis

30 August 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Belgium’s King Albert II on Wednesday asked the leader of the lower house of parliament, Herman Van Rompuy, to resolve a political crisis gripping the country since general elections in June.

Belgium has been mired in political turmoil since the 10 June polls as the major parties have failed to overcome their differences and form a new coalition government.

The Belgian sovereign gave 59-year-old Van Rompuy an “exploratory mission to find a solution to the current political crisis,” the Royal Palace said in a statement.

Van Rompuy, a former vice- prime minister and budget minister from 1993 to 1999, is one of the few politicians still active to have taken part in the difficult negotiations that produced Belgium’s federal system in 1993.

After the elections, the King first asked the leader of the French-speaking liberal party, Didier Reynders, and then former Christian Democrat prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene to prepare the tricky negotiations on forming a government.

Then on 15 July the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats and head of the Flanders region, Yves Leterme, took over responsibility for leading the talks.

Although his party came out on top in the elections and he was widely expected to be the next prime minister, Leterme threw in the towel after failing to win support from French-speaking parties for his reform plans.

Talks broke down over Flemish demands for more power to be given to regional governments: many politicians in Belgium’s southern, poorer French-speaking region of Wallonia fear could lead to the country splitting up.

Despite his failure to form a government, experts still consider Leterme to be the most credible candidate for prime minister since his party is the biggest in Flanders, the most populous region in Belgium.

As the political impasse grinds on, the pre-election liberal-socialist government continues to manage the country’s day-to-day affairs, but it is not empowered to make important policy decisions.

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news