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Belgian turmoil

April 22, 2010

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme has tendered his resignation after his government fell apart. However, the country’s King Albert II withheld his decision on whether to accept.

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme leaves the royal palace in a car
Leterme leaves the royal palace without a decision on his offer to resignImage: AP

Before leaving for the royal palace on Thursday, Yves Leterme informed members of his cabinet that his second term of government was at an end.

After meeting the prime minister on Thursday afternoon, King Albert II said that he would wait to decide on whether to accept the resignation.

The monarch warned that a political crisis stemming from Leterme's fall would "seriously threaten" Belgium's standing in the European Union as the country prepares to take on the rotating presidency of the EU.

"The king and the prime minister underlined how unfortunate it would be, in the current circumstances, to be drawn into a political crisis," a palace statement said.

Such an outcome "would seriously threaten, on the one hand, the economic and social well-being of its citizens, and on the other hand, Belgium's role at a European level," the statement continued.

Electoral boundary row

The resignation came after the Flemish-speaking liberal party Open VLD announced it would leave the government coalition over plans to redraw the boundaries of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district.

A Belgian flag with the bottom right corner torn off
Belgium is set to take over the EU presidency in JulyImage: AP

"Yves Leterme had no other choice than to inform us that he would go to the king immediately to tender the government's resignation," Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx told reporters.

Tensions have arisen between Belgium's French-speaking minority and its Flemish-speaking majority over the political representation of Brussels. The city is largely French-speaking, but lies within a Flemish-speaking area.

Loss of confidence

Open VLD said it had lost confidence in the current government, led by Leterme since November, because it had failed to resolve the boundary dispute.

Yves Leterme waving and smiling
Is this really goodbye? This is the 5th time Leterme has offered to resign since 2007Image: AP

"We have not agreed on a negotiated solution and therefore Open VLD no longer has confidence in the government," said party chairman Alexander De Croo.

Without the party's backing, the remaining four government parties would still have 76 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament - a majority that was deemed too slim to be able to govern effectively.

The political turmoil comes shortly before Belgium takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months from July 1. If elections are called, the country could hold the presidency while having no government in place.


Editor: Susan Houlton