Belgium's king accepts government's resignation

Belgium's King Albert II has today accepted the government's resignation after the coalition of the prime minister broke down last week.

Prime minister Yves Leterme's government collapsed last week after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district.

However, The king waited to see if last-ditch negotiations could still keep the government together. Late Monday it became clear the differences between the linguistic groups were too deep.

Elections are likely to be called in early June.

"I regret that the necessary dialogue to achieve a negotiated settlement did not produce the result we hoped for," Mr Leterme said in a statement.

The Royal Palace said that "the King has tasked the government to continue in a caretaker capacity".

The crisis comes at an inopportune moment, with Belgium poised to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Mr Leterme highlighted the work that had been achieved to shield the country from the global economic crisis, reform the judiciary and prepare for the EU presidency, when the Belgian prime minister will be one of the most visible European politicians for six months.

"This work needs to be continued," said Mr Leterme.

Speculation had been that the five coalition parties would keep trying to break the stalemate at least until Thursday, when the next session of parliament was planned, but that did not happen.

"We wanted a negotiated solution but it was quickly clear that there was no political will," said Alexander De Croo, head of the Dutch-speaking Liberals.

The current coalition took office March 20, 2008, following a political impasse over a related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.

Linguistic disputes rooted in history and economic disparities have long dominated politics in this country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and four million Francophones.

Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking northern Flanders and French-speaking southern Wallonia and bilingual Brussels, the country's capital, in between.

The language rules determine which language is used on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.

In 2003, the Constitutional Court ruled the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde voting district illegal because it violated the separation of Dutch- and French-language regions.

The district includes Brussels, which is officially bilingual, but also encompasses 20-odd towns in Dutch-speaking Flanders around the capital.

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