Belgium ends political crisis as new cabinet formed

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Belgium's incoming Socialist prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, and his five coalition partners have agreed on the make-up of a cabinet to be sworn in by King Albert II on Tuesday, political sources said.

The swearing in by the monarch will bring an end to the country's longest political crisis in history, which after 18 months without a government left Belgium increasingly vulnerable to pressure from financial markets.

Di Rupo is to hand his list of 12 ministers to Albert II late Monday before the swearing-in ceremony the next day.

The 60-year-old politician, a career politician born into a family of Italiam farmers who migrated to work in the coalmines, will be the first French-speaking premier in more than three decades in language-divided Belgium, and the first Socialist at the helm since 1974.

He will also be Europe's second openly gay head of government after Iceland's premier.

After a June 2010 election failed to produce a decisive victor, the country's feuding politicians, who are split both politically and by Belgium's widening language divide, were unable to strike a coalition deal for months.

Di Rupo for weeks has been finessing a government platform for six parties across the political spectrum with enough combined parliament seats to govern.

With the debt crisis spreading across the eurozone like wildfire, bickering politicians put their quarrels aside last week after Belgium's borrowing costs soared last week and ratings giant Standard & Poor's cut its credit score.

The downgrade jolted politicians into agreeing an austerity budget that aims to balance the books by 2015.

Di Rupo's cabinet includes six portfolios for other French-speakers from southern Wallonia and six for Dutch-speakers from wealthier northern Flanders, which accounts for 60 percent of the 10.5 million population.

The prestige foreign affairs portfolio would go to current caretaker finance minister Didier Reynders, a French-speaking liberal.

He would trade places with current foreign minister Steven Vanackere, a Dutch-speaking liberal.

Absent from the talks and the coalition however is Belgium's biggest party, the separatist Flemish N-VA led by Bart De Wever.

De Wever has dismissed the coalition as "a minority government for Flanders, imposing cuts that a majority of Flemish will have to pay for."

Many in wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders feel their taxes are financing the poorer French-speaking south.

Di Rupo will outline the coalition 180-page platform to parliament on Wednesday, with the new premier then free to join this week's crucial European Union summit.

© 2011 AFP

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