Would-be Belgian premier issues plan to save split nation

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Weeks after being asked to form a government to save rudderless Belgium, Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo issued a radical plan Monday to slash the budget and devolve power in the language-split nation.

Di Rupo, asked seven weeks ago by King Albert II to form a government in a country that has been more than a year without one, said in a much-anticipated 80-minute speech that he hoped "to redraw the political map of the 21st century".

"I hope that will be possible," he said.

Di Rupo, whose Socialist party led the field in the French-speaking south in June 13, 2010, elections that failed to produce an outright majority, called for a 22-billion-euro cut in public spending by 2015 and extra power to the regions -- a key demand from leaders of Dutch-speaking northern Flanders.

The other big winner at last year's general election was the separatist Flemish N-VA party, headed by hardliner Bart De Wever.

Successive efforts to form a workable coalition gathering French leftwingers and Flemish liberals have broken down repeatedly over the past year, with Albert II naming a succession of special negotiators who all returned empty-handed to the palace.

Di Rupo said in a nationally-televised press conference that he hoped to see the country's nine major mainstream parties respond by Thursday evening.

A government could be put together "very quickly", he said, ending a political crisis that has seen Belgium earn the dubious record of being the world's country longest without a government.

© 2011 AFP

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