Belgian king rejects govt's resignation

King Albert II pushes for more talks to end language dispute; constitutional reforms threaten to tear apart nation of Dutch-speakers and Francophones.

belgian king 88 (photo credit: AP)
belgian king 88
(photo credit: AP)
King Albert II asked three seasoned politicians Friday to help him sort out a deepening split over constitutional reforms which threatens to tear apart this nation of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones. The Belgian monarch gave them two weeks to see how politicians from Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia can begin a "credible" dialogue about more regional autonomy. He rejected, for now, Monday's resignation of the government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme. In a statement, the palace said the monarch asked Leterme "to encourage as best as is possible" chances of launching a constitutional reform debate. A cumbersome seven-party alliance of Christian Democrats, Liberals, Socialists and nationalist hard-liners from both language camps, the government took office March 20. It failed to agree on devolving more federal powers to Belgium's prosperous Dutch-speaking north, and Wallonia, its economically poorer southern half. The appointment of three politicians - two Francophones and the leader of Belgium's tiny German-speaking region - was seen as a desperate bid to force a breakthrough in a dispute that has deadlocked Belgian politics since the June 10, 2007 elections. Flemish parties want their half of the country to be more autonomous by shifting taxes, some social security measures, transport, health, labor and justice matters to the linguistically divided regions. Francophone parties accuse Dutch-speakers of trying to break up Belgium, which gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. Dutch-speaking parties accuse their Francophone counterparts of not negotiating in good faith. Officials said this explains why the monarch include no Dutch-speaker in the trio of politicians that must now help find an exit to the crisis. "The ball is now in the Francophone court," said Marianne Thyssen, leader of the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats.