Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 16:53 UK

Belgian PM Yves Leterme offers to stand down

Yves Leterme
Yves Leterme has handed his resignation to the king before

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme has decided to resign after a key partner withdrew from his governing coalition.

Mr Leterme visited King Albert to tender his government's resignation following an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The king did not immediately accept Mr Leterme's resignation.

The collapse of the government threw into doubt the scheduled parliamentary debate on a law that would ban full-face Muslim veils being worn in public.

It would have been the first such law introduced by a European country.

Third resignation

The coalition fell apart after the Flemish liberal party, Open VLD, withdrew over a long-running dispute on the special voting rights of French speakers living in Dutch-speaking areas near the capital Brussels.

"There was no other choice but for the government to resign," Finance Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.

It is the third time Mr Leterme, 49, has offered his resignation to the king.

The first time, in July 2008, he offered to quit because of failures to patch up the rift between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons.

The king refused to accept his resignation - but accepted it in December the same year, amid allegations that the government had interfered with the courts.

Mr Leterme, however, returned as prime minister after his replacement, Herman von Rompuy, was elected president of the European Council.

The king was considering his response to the latest move on Thursday. He could ask the prime minister to try to form another administration. If that fails, elections could follow.

Divided community

"The king and the prime minister jointly underlined that, in the current circumstances, a political crisis would be inopportune and would seriously damage both the economic and social well-being of the citizens and the role of Belgium in Europe," the palace said in a written statement.

Belgium is due to take over the six-month presidency of the European Union in the next few months.

The latest row between the Dutch and French speaking communities centres on a long-running dispute on the special voting rights of French speakers living in Dutch-speaking areas near the capital Brussels.

Talks on the issue have failed to reach agreement.

"A negotiated solution has not been found and that's why the Open VLD is withdrawing its confidence in the government," said party president Alexander De Croo.

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