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Belgian Talks Reach Overtime in French-Flemish Clash

Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Belgian government talks went into overtime as French-speaking parties pressed the richer Dutch-speaking north to accept an offer of greater regional autonomy.

French-speaking Socialist party leader Elio Di Rupo bowed to a plea by King Albert II to continue seven-party talks to form a government, keeping alive his bid to become Belgium’s first native French-speaking prime minister since 1974.

A previous offer by the French parties to transfer 15.8 billion euros ($20 billion) in spending from the federal government to the regions was dismissed as inadequate by the strongest party in the Dutch-speaking north, the N-VA under Bart De Wever.

“For 40 days, I’ve tried to reconcile the irreconcilable,” Di Rupo told reporters in Brussels today after meeting the king. He said he is confronted with “the most difficult situation in Belgian history.”

Two months after inconclusive national elections, politically paralyzed Belgium is struggling to overcome the north-south tension that led to the rise and fall of four governments since 2008.

Di Rupo called on the Dutch- and French-speaking sides to compromise and end the clash that has “poisoned” Belgian political life. Di Rupo, 59, will resume discussions Aug. 21 after the king spends two days consulting with party leaders.

“Significant progress has been made,” the royal palace said in a statement. The next set of talks should focus on the distribution of federal revenue to the regions, it said.

To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net; John Martens in Brussels at jmartens1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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