Potential Belgium PM remains hopeful over coalition

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Elio Di Rupo, who may become Belgium's first francophone prime minister in 30 years, said Wednesday he remained hopeful of forming a coalition government with Flemish and French-speaking parties.

Di Rupo, who received an extension from King Albert II in his mission to find a way to form a coalition government, did not fix a precise date but said he hoped a decision would be reached "within a reasonable period of time".

"For 40 days I have tried to reconcile the irreconcilable," the leader of the francophone Socialist Party said in a press conference, as the gulf continues between the two main Belgian communities.

The Royal Palace said that Albert II would meet the relevant party leaders involved in the potential coalition on Thursday and Friday, while Di Rupo would gather the leaders on Saturday to continue negotiations.

Belgium's last, five-party, coalition government fell after a key Flemish party walked out in frustration over a lack of movement on some of the knottiest inter-communal problems, prompting the early elections.

Should Di Rupo succeed in forming a government it would be a first for a francophone since Paul Vanden Boeynants, a Brussels Christian Democrat who was prime minister from October 1978 to April 1979.

The most sensitive issues include a long-running language feud and Flemish demands for more autonomy for Flanders.

A country of 10.5 million people and 60 percent Flemish, Belgium -- which hosts the headquarters of the European Union and NATO -- already has heavily devolved regional governments, divided along linguistic lines anchored in a financial gulf.

© 2010 AFP

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