BRUSSELS — Belgian Premier Yves Leterme’s government collapsed yesterday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district.
Dutch-speaking Liberals, one of Leterme’s five coalition parties, quit the Cabinet, accusing its Francophone counterparts of blocking a deal to break up the Brussels-area district the constitutional court ruled illegal in 2003.
Leterme offered King Albert the resignation of his government.
The Belgian monarch did not accept it but began consultations with key politicians on the way forward. That may take several days, Parliament President Patrick Dewael told reporters.
In a statement, the royal palace called a political crisis inopportune.
It said it could harm “Belgium’s role in Europe and at an international level’’ — a reference to fear that the political deadlock could drag into the second half of 2010, when Belgium holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
That is not an unreasonable fear. Leterme’s government took office March 20, 2008, after a political impasse over a similar and related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.