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Europe

Belgian King Names Parliament Leader to Form Government

Belgium's King Albert II on Sunday appointed the president of the country's parliament, Dutch-speaking conservative Herman van Rompuy, 61, as prime minister, palace sources confirmed.

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The appointment ends months of political turmoil in Belgium

The appointment comes a little more than a week after the previous premier resigned.

The king received van Rompuy "in audience at the Royal Palace of Laeken (and) charged him with forming a government. He accepted this mission," a statement from the palace announced.

Van Rompuy is a lifetime member of the Christian Democratic party (CD&V) in Dutch-speaking Flanders, having served as vice president of

the party's youth wing in the 1970s before rising through the ranks to serve as budget minister from 1993 to 1999.

A philosophy graduate with a master's degree in economics, he also served as the party's chief negotiator in the formation of no fewer than eight governments in the 1980s and 1990s -- an experience which is likely to stand him in good stead in his new post.

"He was a strong deputy prime minister and a very successful budget minister. He has experience of leading the country in difficult times economically and budgetarily - all this makes him the right man to form a government," the CD&V said in a statement.

Outspoken government critic

Van Rompuy's nomination comes after the five-party coalition government headed by his party colleague, Yves Leterme, 48, fell amidst accusations that Leterme had tried to influence judges in the sale of collapsed banking giant Fortis.

Van Rompuy was an outspoken critic of that government, which was stitched together in March after nine months of negotiations, and which spent much of its time deadlocked over the explosive question of how power and wealth should be divided between Belgium's two main regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

The coalition was characterized by "many promises, few results -the opposite of what I want," he wrote on the CD&V Web site.

"I vote for affordable care in hospitals and rest homes, affordable housing for young couples, competitive businesses, a zero-tolerance policy on drugs, security and investment in the future, (and) education and public transport," he wrote before his appointment.

His nomination follows a week of inter-party negotiations led by former premier Wilfried Martens, 72, whom the king appointed as royal "explorer" on December 21.

Martens' efforts focused on preserving the five-party coalition forged by Leterme and finding politicians from within the fallen premier's party with enough status to lead it.

The 61-year-old van Rompuy had hitherto said that he did not want the job, which comes as Belgium is struggling with the consequences of the global financial crisis and with bitter infighting between French and Dutch-peaking politicians.

The feud over the division of power and wealth between Flanders and Wallonia has dogged the country's leaders ever since elections in June 2007.

Leterme emerged as the surprise winner of the vote, but feuding between the regions was so intense that it took him nine months to form a government.

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