Belgian PM Leterme rules out return to government

Media speculation grew that King Albert was trying to revive the collapsed government in the face of urgent economic problems.

Belgian PM Leterme rules out return to government

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme ruled out a return to office on Sunday while media speculation grew that King Albert was trying to revive the collapsed government in the face of urgent economic problems.

"He wants first to clear his name and that of his staff of any suspicion," a spokesman for Leterme said.

Leterme offered his government's resignation on Friday after the Supreme Court said there were strong signs of political meddling in a court case over the rescue of the financial group Fortis at the height of the financial crisis.

The king, who has held consultations with leading politicians, has yet to decide whether to let the government quit.

The head of Leterme's Flemish Christian Democrats, Marianne Thyssen, met the king on Sunday, a palace statement said, but gave no details. The party, as the biggest in parliament, is expected to decide who becomes prime minister.

Belgium, host of NATO and the European Union, is expected to slide into recession this quarter and urgently needs a government to push through a 2 billion euro ($2.8 billion) stimulus package and a deal on wages, and find a solution to the Fortis debacle.

Fortis investors, whose shares have dropped to around 1 euro from almost 30 euros in April 2007, have successfully challenged the group's break-up and asset sale to France's BNP Paribas.

Belgian media, including the websites of De Morgen and De Standaard newspapers, reasoned that since so far the king had consulted only the heads of five ruling parties, he wanted them to continue their coalition.

"The most realistic scenario is a reconstitution of the same majority," the French-language Le Soir added.

The two key questions are who will lead the government and whether it will last a full term until 2011 or end in June 2009, when parliamentary elections could be held on the same day as regional and EU votes.

It was not clear who would succeed Leterme. Finance Minister Didier Reynders ruled himself out for the top job. The president of the lower house of parliament, Herman Van Rompuy, 61, has been suggested as a possible short-term successor.

Other possible successors who have been mentioned in the Belgian media include Thyssen, a former premier, Jean Luc Dehaene, 68, who was appointed chairman of the Belgian-French financial services group Dexia in October when it was rocked by shareholder jitters due to the financial crisis.

Leterme offered to resign in July, though the king made him stay on, after failing to broker a deal between Dutch-speaking parties which want more powers for Flanders and French speakers who fear such a move would pull Belgium apart.

The prime minister struggled for nine months to form the government, giving up twice, a saga that sparked media speculation that the 178-year-old nation could break in two.

The devolution issue, which analysts say explains a lack of trust within the current coalition, has failed to go away.

Some Flemish parties again insisted that a new government, in whatever form, should tackle the issue, though French speakers, such as Reynders, argued it was not a priority now.

Reuters

Last Mod: 22 Aralık 2008, 12:08
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