Belgium king meets far-right Vlaams Belang party leader

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image captionKing Philippe (left) met Mr van Grieken (right) at Belgium's Royal Palace

Belgium's King Philippe has held an official meeting at the royal palace with the head of the far-right Vlaams Belang party.

It is the first time a Belgian monarch has met a far-right leader since 1936.

His meeting with Tom van Grieken comes after a surge in support for Flemish separatist parties in the country's national elections.

The king has also met with other party leaders as part of talks to form a government.

However a shift to the left in Belgium's French-speaking south will make it difficult for the country to form a government.

The Vlaams Belang ("Flemish Interest") leader told reporters at the royal palace that their meeting was "the most normal thing in the world".

Until recently, the party has operated on the fringe of Belgian politics and the monarchy has refused to meet with its leaders.

However on Sunday, Vlaams Belang gained the second-highest number of votes in national elections and took 18 seats in the country's federal parliament - up from three previously.

After elections, Belgium's monarchy helps with formation of national governments, which have historically been coalitions of Flemish and Francophone parties.

"The king cannot be partisan," Leuven University political scientist Bart Maddens told local broadcaster RTBF.

"[He] must remain neutral and so what the king can do is conclude that there is no party that wants to form a coalition with the Vlaams Belang."

The last time a monarch met with a far-right leader was in 1936, when King Leopold III met Léon Degrelle, the head of the fascist Rex party. Rex later collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

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image captionVlaams Belang took part in a demonstration last December against the UN's migration pact

The anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang party was formed in 2004 after a court found its predecessor, Vlaams Blok ("Flemish Block"), breached anti-racism laws.

It has called for the abolition of the monarchy and funding cuts to the country's less prosperous, French-speaking Wallonia region.

After elections in 2010, Belgium took a record 541 days to create a government.

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