Belgian PM quits over deep divisions
CNN - 15 july 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Belgium's prime minister said Tuesday he had offered to resign after realizing it would be impossible to resolve deep divisions over increased autonomy for French- and Dutch-speaking Belgians.

King Albert II did not immediately accept the early morning resignation but began consultations with political leaders to resolve the crisis stemming from the failure of Leterme's Cabinet to reach agreement on constitutional reforms designed to grant more self-rule to Belgium's rival linguistic camps.
Francophone parties accuse Dutch-speakers of trying to separate themselves from French-speaking Wallonia, where the 15 percent unemployment rate is triple that of Dutch-speaking Flanders.
The crisis has triggered renewed calls in Dutch-speaking Belgium for the breakup of the country, which became independent of the Netherlands in 1830.
Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered King Albert the resignation of his government after he acknowledged he would not make a Tuesday deadline for a constitutional reform deal despite months of talks.
He said in a statement that it was "impossible to bridge" the differences between Dutch- and French-speaking parties.
"This shows that the federal model (of this country) has reached its limit," the statement added.
Vice-premier Didier Reynders called for Leterme to stay on, adding he had not lost trust or faith in the ability to reach a deal between political factions.
"We need to work in the coming hours and days to build on trust ... to work toward a solution," Reynders said. "The government must go ahead with its social and economic program. We have to go ahead with our coalition and with Leterme as premier."
It was not yet clear whether the king would let Leterme go or whether he would ask him to remain in a caretaker capacity until the political leaders can resolve a crisis, a new government can be formed or new elections are held.
Leterme's government -- a fractious alliance of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals and nationalist hard-liners from both sides of Belgium's linguistic divide -- took office on March 20. He sought to defuse the tensions that have loomed over this country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones for more than a year.
Flemish parties want the prosperous Dutch-speaking north to be more autonomous by shifting taxes and some social security measures from the federal to the regional level. They also want more self-rule in transport, health, labor market and justice areas.
Mainstream Flemish politicians say there is room for more regional autonomy without breaking up Belgium, but polls indicate they are losing ground to more hardline parties in Flanders that openly advocate the breakup of Belgium.

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