BRUSSELS — Belgium’s King Albert II accepted the government’s resignation yesterday after negotiations failed to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district in and around Brussels, the country’s capital.
The king had waited since last week to see if last-ditch talks could keep the coalition government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme together. But late yesterday, it became clear the differences between the linguistic groups were too deep.
Elections could now be called in early June.
Speculation had been that the five coalition parties would keep trying to break the stalemate until Thursday, when the next session of parliament is planned, but that did not happen.
“We wanted a negotiated solution but it was quickly clear that there was no political will,’’ said Alexander De Croo, head of the Dutch-speaking Liberals.
The crisis comes at an inopportune moment: Belgium will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1.
The current coalition took office March 20, 2008, following a political impasse over a related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.
Linguistic disputes rooted in history and economic disparities have long dominated politics in this country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones.
Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking northern Flanders and French-speaking southern Wallonia, with bilingual Brussels in between. The language rules determine which language is used on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.