Rumpus over royal leaks in Belgium

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Belgium's royal palace issued a bitter complaint Thursday over media leaks of private audiences between Albert II and political leaders held to end the nation's dire political crisis.

"The royal palace regrets the lack of respect of the discretion expected of the royal audience," a statement said. "The aim of this discretion is to enable the head of state to carry out his duty."

The rare royal gripe follows the publication of a book, excerpts of which were released in Thursday's press, relating at times stormy encounters between the 76-year-old king and leaders of Belgium's feuding political parties.

The palace said some of the excerpts carried "manifest errors," notably concerning audiences held June 16 and October 10 last year.

Currently holding the dubious record of the world's country longest without a government, Belgium next month marks a year since a general election under a caretaker cabinet -- an embarassment the monarch has worked hard to overcome.

Since the June 13 vote failed to deliver a clear majority, Albert II has named a succession of royal mediators tasked with finding a compromise enabling a stable coalition deal between Belgium's divided language communities, the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south.

To date, each of the king's envoys have trudged back to the palace empty-handed.

In an account of the sovereign's audience on June 10, a book titled "A King Without A Country," by journalists Martin Buxant and Steven Samyn, recounts how a Flemish politician lashed out at the king for meddling in politics.

"This is politics, this is not your role," said Alexander De Croo, according to the authors.

As politicians continued to squabble over the following weeks, largely over separatist demands from northern Flanders, the king in October was reportedly so exasperated that he pledged to stop a bid to hold a new election, saying "They will just have to work things out!"

The book also takes a swipe at Albert's son and heir, Philippe, viewed as a poor successor to the throne by much of the country's political establishment.

© 2011 AFP

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