BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's king urged the country's politicians on Friday to consider "the gravity of the situation," after the resignation of the latest mediator in talks to form a coalition government.
Earlier in the day, Elio Di Rupo, leader of Belgium's French-speaking socialists, asked King Albert II to relieve him. The move came after the main Flemish separatist party rejected Di Rupo's comprehensive proposal to resolve the country's 13-month long government crisis.
But the palace said the monarch would keep the resignation in abeyance for several days while he holds talks with other political leaders.
"In view of the gravity of the situation, the king wishes that all responsible politicians take a few days to reflect on the ... consequences of the political situation and to search for ways to resolve it," a statement said.
Belgium is divided into two main linguistic communities — Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north with its 6 million Dutch-speakers, and Walonia in the south with about 5 million Francophones.
Elections in June 2010 brought the anti-Belgium N-VA regionalists to the fore in Flanders and left the pro-Belgium PS Socialists as the main party in the Francophone regions. The two need to work together to form a unitary national government, but talks have repeatedly broken down over demands for reforms and more self-rule to the two communities.
The nation now holds the record for time without a government for a modern democracy.
Di Rupo's plan, which was accepted by other parties in both regions, attempted to tackle the main issues blocking the formation of a unity Cabinet.
He proposed changing the electoral districts around Brussels, inhabited mainly by French-speakers but located inside Flanders, and giving regional authorities greater fiscal authority. The plan also proposed slashing Belgium's soaring public debt and balancing the budget.
But on Thursday, the head of the Flemish separatist party Bart De Wever rejected the entire plan. De Wever denounced the new taxes proposed by Di Rupo and said the socialist's proposal did not attempt to curb the country's generous unemployment benefits.
Since the last elections, a caretaker government headed by Yves Leterme has been running the country. Leterme, the last prime minister before that ballot, was able to include Belgian forces into the international military operation in Libya with little opposition. He also successfully defused financial pressures on the country which increased during the euro crisis early this year.