After Nine Months of Crisis Belgian Lawmakers Reach Deal to Form Government

A dispute that pitted Belgium's French- and Dutch-speaking factions against each other and threatened to break the country apart is over. Lawmakers have struck a deal to form a new government under the leadership of the Flemish Christian Democrats' Yves Leterme.

Yves Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat, is expected to be sworn in as Belgium's new prime minister on Thursday.

Yves Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat, is expected to be sworn in as Belgium's new prime minister on Thursday.

Lawmakers in Belgium announced Tuesday that they had arrived at a deal to form a new national government, ending a nine-month political dispute that threatened to break the country apart.

According to a plan forged during all-night negotiations, the new government will be sworn in Thursday with Yves Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat, as Prime Minister. Leterme, whose party won national elections last June, announced the deal on VRT radio.

"I can confirm that the five parties ... have reached a government deal which includes a lot of concrete measures," he said.

The agreement follows a heated dispute that began last fall over constitutional reform meant to delegate more powers to the country's Dutch-speaking Flemings and Francophone Walloons. The crisis raised widespread fears that the nation's two linguistic halves no longer shared the same vision or goals, and that Belgium might dissolve.

Leterme's post-election efforts to form a government collapsed in December after he failed to get Francophone parties to commit to shifting more powers to Flanders and Wallonia. French-speakers fear that devolution would cut funding to Wallonia, the country's poorer Francophone southern region, and from the bilingual capital Brussels. To ease tensions, King Albert asked interim Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to stay on as premier until March despite his party losing elections last year.

During Verhofstadt's interim government a majority of Belgian political groups agreed to allow limited constitutional reform, opening the door for Leterme to form his government.

The coalition plan unveiled Tuesday does not include any mention of constitutional reform, according to the Associated Press. That issue will continue to be handled by a special panel of lawmakers. The plan makes vague promises to toughen immigration policy, cut taxes and boost pension benefits amid worries the country is headed for an economic slump.

Power is scheduled to be transferred from Verhofstadt to Leterme on Thursday after the country's five coalition parties and parliament lawmakers approve the new government.

The Flemish Christian Democratic Party was the clear winner in national elections last June, but Leterme will have to rely on the Francophone Liberal Democrats, Socialists and Christian Democrats for support in the coalition. The only other Flemish party to join the coalition will be Verhofstadt's Liberal Democrats.



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