Belgian crisis: Mediator announces breakthrough

Elio Di Rupo Elio Di Rupo says the agreements are an important first step

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The mediator trying to form a government in Belgium has announced a breakthrough after tense negotiations.

Politician Elio Di Rupo said the eight parties in the talks had agreed on moves to resolve key sticking points.

They included the division of power between French- and Dutch-speaking communities, he said.

The country has been without an elected government for 15 months. Disagreement centres on electoral boundaries in the linguistically divided Brussels region.

"The eight parties have together succeeded in overcoming the obstacles which have created difficulties these last few days," Mr Di Rupo said in a statement.

Belgium's political crisis worsened on Tuesday when caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme announced he was leaving to take up a new job in Paris.

King Albert II cut short a holiday in France to fly back to Brussels following the news.

The king had appointed Mr Di Rupo, leader of Belgium's second-biggest party the French-speaking Socialist Party, to negotiate a coalition deal.

On Wednesday Mr Di Rupo said that negotiations faced imminent collapse and warned: "The future of the country is at stake."

But after further intense talks on Wednesday he was finally able to announce a breakthrough.

He said the parties had agreed on solutions to sticking points including a dispute over Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde (BHV), a district covering the capital and the suburbs.

BHV is the only district officially bilingual rather than French- or Dutch-speaking.

"Even if the work is far from being finished and numerous debates have to be have to be worked out, the steps taken today... constitute an important step," the statement added.

Financial markets and rating agencies are pressing the country to create an effective government capable of carrying out structural reforms and reducing debt.

Mr Leterme announced he would leave by the end of this year to take up a post at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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