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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK

World: Europe

Belgium's 'rainbow' coalition sworn in

Belgium is still reeling from a series of contaminated food scares

By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

The new Belgian Government - comprising parties from across the political spectrum - has been sworn in by the king.

The "rainbow" coalition compromises six parties: the Flemish Liberals, Socialists and Greens and their French-speaking counterparts.

New Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a Flemish Liberal, said his first task was to deal with the impact of the dioxin contamination of food - a scandal which helped bring down the previous Christian Democratic Socialist coalition, led by Jean-Luc Dehaene.

And it took him exactly four weeks to put together his government, where his predecessor had needed over 100 days.

New efficient state

It is a first sign of the new efficient state, the "rainbow" coalition has promised, instead of the scandal-prone bureaucracy that's become almost synonymous with Belgium.

[ image: New Prime Minister Guy Verhofstad]
New Prime Minister Guy Verhofstad
For the first time in 41 years, the Christian Democrats are out of power, the Greens are in and the Liberals have only their second prime minister this century.

In another break with tradition three women have been given prominent positions.

The health minister is Magda Aelvoet, formerly the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament.

She will be in charge of a new federal agency monitoring food safety from farm to table - an area where four bodies used to share responsibility.

Marc Verwilghen has been appointed justice minister. As the head of the parliamentary commission into the Dutroux affair - the bungled investigation on a murderous paedophile ring - he became one of the country's most popular politicians.

And the new foreign minister is Louis Michel, the leader of the French Liberals - a professor of German, English and Dutch who bridges the linguistic divide in Belgium.

For once, dealing with a split between the Dutch and French speaking communities has not taken pride of place in the programme of the new government.

Its priority will be to deal with the impact of the dioxin crisis, estimated to have cost Belgium $1.5bn.

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