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Would-be Belgian PM sparks uproar with gaffe against TV channel

   BRUSSELS, December 10, 2007 – Belgium’s would-be prime minister sparked uproar over the weekend by likening the French-speaking public television channel to a Rwandan radio station that helped fuel the country’s genocide.

   A week after abandoning efforts to form a coalition government, gaffe-prone Flemish politician Yves Leterme said the RTBF was called Radio Mille Collines by some Flemish in a Saturday interview with Flemish newspaper Het Belang van Limburg.

   In the same interview, he accused the channel of having its own "political agenda" and being a "vestige of the past" after a recent report on one of the French-speaking politicians involved in the failed coalition talks.

   Leterme’s comparison was only the latest of a series of gaffes which have undermined his credibility with French-speakers in Belgium’s southern half, whom he once said were intellectually incapable of learning Dutch.

   In reaction to the interview, Radio and Television Minister Fadila Laanan described Leterme’s comparison with Radio Mille Collines as an "abominable" attack on the public channel.

   RTBF’s head Jean-Paul Philippot also slammed Leterme’s remarks as "unacceptable" and called for "frank and constructive dialogue" with him, which he duly accepted.

   Senate president Armand De Decker described Leterme’s remarks as "totally inadequate" and "unfortunate" while Socialist senator Philippe Moureaux said that "it’s more than a gaffe, it’s totally inadmissable."

   However, politicians in Leterme’s Flemish Christian Democrats party backed their man.

   Senator Etienne Schouppe said that "if more Flemish watched RTBF there would be even more people disgusted with the meanings of the words used by the journalists."

   Leterme abandoned efforts on December 1 to lead talks on forming a coalition after the two Dutch-speaking Flemish and two Francophone Walloon parties involved in the negotiations failed to bridge their differences.

   Even though he threw in the towel to form a coalition, Leterme says that he still considers himself a candidate for prime minister because his party came out on top in a June 10 general election.