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New Belgian leader takes office

Herman Van Rompuy
The king turned to Herman Van Rompuy after Belgium's latest crisis

Belgium's king has appointed a new prime minister and sworn in his cabinet, after a deal was reached on the formation of a new government.

Herman Van Rompuy, leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, becomes prime minister, succeeding Yves Leterme, who resigned on 19 December.

His government collapsed amid a scandal over the rescue of Fortis bank.

Mr Van Rompuy, formerly speaker of parliament, is seen as a much safer pair of hands, correspondents say.

The new government was presented to King Albert on Tuesday evening.

It comprises the same five parties that had made up Mr Leterme's government.

Its immediate task is to tackle the recession looming in Belgium, says the BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels, as well as dealing with the scandal that accounted for his predecessor, and with Belgium's perennial divisions.

Mr Van Rompuy, 61, has long resisted taking the premiership, but is seen as a safe pair of hands, after successfully cracking down on public debt as budget minister in the 1990s.

Bank scandal

Mr Leterme quit amid allegations about political meddling in the bail-out of stricken bank Fortis.

He only took office in March, nine months after a general election had resulted in political deadlock amid tensions between the country's two main communities, the Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme
Prime Minister Yves Leterme was only in office since March

Mr Leterme had tendered his resignation in June after failing to push through plans to devolve more power to the regions - but the king rejected it.

The Fortis scandal was a fresh blow to his government.

The bank was one of those hardest hit by the credit crunch, leaving it desperately short of cash.

The governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg decided to take it over and break it up.

Belgium planned to sell nearly all the company's assets to France's BNP Paribas.

However, hundreds of thousands of investors were left with virtually nothing and so began legal action.

The Brussels appeal court ruled in their favour, freezing the sale.

But Belgium's Supreme Court president said there were "undoubtedly significant indications" that members of the Belgian government had attempted to influence the outcome of the court case. That piled pressure on the government, triggering the prime minister's resignation.

Mr Van Rompuy is an old-style Belgian politician, favouring compromise over confrontation, but he will need all his skills of negotiation to keep this new government together beyond next year's regional elections, our correspondent says.

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SEE ALSO
Belgium to fight Fortis verdict
15 Dec 08 |  Business
War of words in divided Belgium
08 Oct 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Belgium
08 Oct 08 |  Country profiles

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