Belgian political crisis deepens as talks collapse again

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Belgium plunged deeper into political chaos on Monday after a new bid to form a coalition government collapsed, as the divided country's Flemish and French-speaking leaders failed to bridge differences.

Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever declared the end of negotiations between seven political parties that have dragged on for more than three months since elections in June.

"This story is over. Let's stop floundering," De Wever said after a meeting of his New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

Talks had already reached a dead-end in early September but King Albert II named mediators in a bid to resurrect negotiations.

"We have not gotten any answers to the vital questions being asked by Flemings," he said, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the francophone parties.

"And if I have to carry it on my shoulders, too bad, but I reject any childishness," De Wever said.

The N-VA, which came out on top in the Flanders region at the June elections, had given francophones an ultimatum to accept by Monday their demands for greater fiscal autonomy.

The separatist Flemish party wants the regions to be able to raise income taxes, a function of the federal state at the moment.

Francophones fear that the Wallonia region, already less wealthy than its northern neighbour Flanders, will become poorer under such fiscal reform and warn that it could lead to the end of Belgium altogether.

"We are for solidarity," De Wever said. "The goal is not to impoverish all of us."

A split could provoke a political earthquake in the European Union. Belgium, one of the 27-nation bloc's founding members, holds the rotating presidency of the EU until December and Brussels hosts the headquarters of the EU and NATO.

© 2010 AFP

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