Guy Verhofstadt chairs last cabinet meeting

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He has presided over an interim administration since just before Christmas.

The new government also means that Guy Verhofstadt's reign at the Wetstraat 16 - the seat of the Belgian Government - has come to an end. Mr Verhofstadt on Wednesday chaired his last cabinet meeting.

He has presided over an interim administration since just before Christmas.

Afterwards he went to the Royal Palace to tender his resignation to King Albert.

Mr Verhofstadt's Flemish liberals did badly in last year's general election and he has decided to take a year out from politics.

He will tour Europe and write a book.

The interim government was the third administration Mr Verhofstadt headed.

A young talent, he led his Flemish liberal party in difficult times.

In the austere early eighties the liberals were in coalition with Wilfried Martens's Christian democrats.

In 1987 Mr Verhofstadt entered the cabinet to become Budget Minister, but this turned out to be a poisoned chalice and the government came unstuck two years later.

For many years the Ghent politician attacked consecutive Christian democrat/socialist administrations.

He reformed his own party taking the liberals towards the centre, but it was only in 1999 with the dioxin-in-food scandal that he was able to oust PM Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Mr Verhofstadt's first administration included liberals, socialists and greens.

In 2003 he was able to govern with only liberals and socialists.

With the Christian democrats on the opposition benches a number of ethical issues like euthanasia and same sex marriages could be pushed though.

Mr Verhofstadt has always been keen to promote Belgium abroad and cut taxes at home.

His ambition to become European Commission President foundered on British objections.

Though he had a good personal relationship with Tony Blair, in London he was seen as too "federalist".

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