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Belgium's New Prime Minister Sworn In


Belgium's new prime minister, Yves Leterme, was sworn in Thursday more than nine months after general elections that paralyzed the country. But from Paris, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA there are questions about just how long Mr. Leterme and his government will last.

Yves Leterme, of the Flemish Christian Democrat party, took over the helm of Belgium's, government replacing caretaker prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt. Mr. Leterme, whose party came out ahead in June elections last year leads a coalition government that includes not only the left and right, but also parties from the country's French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The new coalition government represents a breakthrough after a nine-month crisis that left Belgium without a new government as politicians wrangled over demands by Flemish politicians for greater regional autonomy, among other issues. Francophone parties are generally against the devolution idea.

Even Thursday, political analysts like Pascal de Witt of the Free University of Brussels, wonder just how long this new government will last.

"It's an open question," he said. "Nobody knows exactly the time for the next government. There is the time of July 2008 which is related for state reform in Belgium -- federal state to regional entities. And there is another date which is very important for the government which is June 2009 regional European elections."

De Witt says if the government collapses, the likely scenario will be new elections. But that, he says, may not necessarily be bad.

"It is clear the [last] June elections were in a specific context," said De Witt. "Then perhaps a new context could bring new results, clearer results -- either from the French-speaking or Flemish-speaking point of view -- or from the liberal versus socialist point of view. We don't know, of course. But it's possible to have clearer results, a lot less fragmented political system than now."

The new government must now tackle the tricky question of how much power to transfer to the country's regions. But already, businesses have welcomed the new government, saying it is good for Belgium's image and for investment from abroad.

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