Belgian crisis ends as new government is sworn in

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The Independent Online

A new government has been formed in Belgium, ending nine months of political deadlock which had threatened to break the country apart. But members of the new government are expected to resume battle soon over devolution of powers to the regions.

King Albert accepted the resignation of the interim Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, yesterday before swearing in Yves Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat, and his 14 other cabinet members. Didier Reynders stays on as Finance Minister and Karel De Gucht retains the Foreign Ministry.

Mr Leterme, the former premier of Dutch-speaking Flanders, will head a five-party government after Dutch and French-speaking parties ended their post-election squabbling over devolution.

Political analysts predict, however, that tensions will resurface over Flemish demands for more power to be given to the regions, which French-speaking parties oppose.

The government, which is expected to pass a vote of confidence tomorrow, has set a July deadline for a major reform of the state.

Mr Verhofstadt, who has led the country since 1999, was reappointed at the end of December after Mr Leterme twice failed to form a government following parliamentary elections in June. Mr Verhofstadt said then he would stay on only until March to settle a 2008 budget and an initial deal on state reform.

The five parties entering government agreed earlier this week on a programme including a plan to create 200,000 jobs and to achieve a budget surplus by next year. Analysts question whether the government will last that long.

"There's a deadline of the end of July to have a second phase of state reform... It means it's really another interim government," said Carl Devos, a political analyst at Ghent University.

Pascal Delwit, an analyst at Brussels Free University, said: "Since 1945, no government made up of the three traditional political families has lasted its whole term."