Belgium to beat Europe record without government

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Belgium on Saturday scoops the record for Europe's longest political crisis when it hits 209 days without a government, a feat last accomplished by neighbouring Netherlands decades ago.

Belgium's political crisis deepened Thursday when a mediator appointed by the king to end an almost seven-month deadlock threw in the towel in exasperation.

Johan Vande Lanotte tendered his resignation to Albert II a day after the country's powerful Flemish separatists refused to discuss a plan to give the country's Dutch- and French-speaking regions more power.

The plan was offered to seven political parties as a basis for setting up a coalition government after June 13 elections failed to produce an outright winner.

"You can take a horse to water but you can't force it to drink," said Vande Lanotte. "There is not sufficient willingness to negotiate."

The failed bid leaves divided Belgium headed into political and economic fog.

Should Belgium fail to get a new government by March 30 it would beat Iraq's world record of 289 days in 2009. Europe's longest rudderless state was the Netherlands in 1977, where politicians haggled 208 days before striking a deal.

Albert II on Monday will announce whether he will accept Vande Lanotte's resignation or not. He could decide to name a new go-between or widen the list of parties involved in the negotiations.

Meantime, while a caretaker cabinet is keeping the buses and trains running on time, fears are mounting of looming economic strife.

With debt hovering just below the 100 percent mark of GDP, ratings agencies and the nation's central bank have warned of a potential threat from financial markets if feuding politicians fail to strike a deal any time soon.

© 2011 AFP

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