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Belgium Political Crisis Ends With New Government


Belgium's rival parties say they have agreed to a new government, ending months of deadlock over demands for greater autonomy by the Dutch-speaking part of the country. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The deal for a coalition government was reached by five Belgian political parties representing not only political differences - between the left and the right - but the key split between those from Francophone Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The agreement was reached just two days before Yves Leterme, of the Flemish, Christian Democratic party, is due to be sworn in as the country's new prime minister, replacing outgoing Guy Verhofstadt.

Mr. Verhofstadt has been in a caretaker position for months, as Belgium endured a political crisis over demands by the richer Dutch-speaking part for greater autonomy. The standoff threatened to split the country.

Pascal de Wit, a political scientist at the Free University of Brussels, says tough decisions remain.

"It is the first step toward the end of the crisis," he said. "It is an agreement between five parties, three political families - the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Social Democrats. But we need a new step toward an institutional agreement."

De Wit says that the fundamental institutional agreement is expected in June or July and will be the immediate challenge for the new government. Not yet resolved, for example, are demands for state reform and improved relations among Belgium's two main linguistic communities - the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemings - and the small, German-speaking community.

Even at this early stage, Mr. Leterme suffers from low popularity ratings. A new poll shows just 10 percent of Francophones and 45 percent of Flemish speakers have confidence in their next prime minister.