Belgium Flemish leader rejects splitting country

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The head of Belgium's independence-minded New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) said in an interview on Saturday that he did not support splitting the politically deadlocked country in two.

"I avoid speaking about this scenario," said Bart de Wever, who heads the largest party in the Flemish north.

He was responding to a question by La Libre Belgique about whether it was "time to negotiate a divorce" between the country's French- and Dutch-speaking regions.

"Everybody thinks I want this, but I think it's not good because we're going to lose our prosperity if we launch into an adventure in which nobody knows how it will end," he said.

He likened bilingual capital Brussels, a largely francophone city located in Flemish territory, to the glue binding the two regions. The fate of areas on its periphery is among the sticking points in the current crisis.

"To say we can cut (the country) is simplistic and dangerous," de Wever added.

His remarks came as Belgium remains without a new government seven months after June elections -- a record in Europe that could eventually break Iraq's 2009 world title of nine months.

The political limbo deepened this week when a mediator appointed by King Albert II quit after a three-month effort to break the impasse failed.

The country's caretaker government has limited powers to tackle the 2011 budget and there are market concerns that the crisis could push up Belgium's borrowing costs and prevent the government from tackling the debt, which is close to 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

De Wever said it was important to let the markets know there was a "captain" on board in Belgium, even if there was no new government.

"If we want to calm the markets, we must start to economise," he added.

De Wever's N-VA emerged as the leading party in the June vote, with the Dutch-speakers -- who represent 60 percent of the population across Belgium -- demanding more autonomy for their region, notably in fiscal and social policy.

On Friday, Flemish parties derided a call by a francophone leader for a national unity government to end the political crisis, with a leading N-VA politician suggesting his rival may have drunk too much.

© 2011 AFP

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