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Belgium and the Netherlands were facing prolonged political chaos Friday after almost three months of negotiations to form coalition governments collapsed in both lowland neighbors following the inability of mainstream parties to find common ground with radical new movements.
In Belgium, the Flemish nationalist party which emerged victorious in the June 13 elections on a ticket of independence for the prosperous, Dutch-speaking north rejected a last-gasp compromise offered by the main party in the French-speaking south.
The breakdown of talks has triggered renewed doubts about the country's long-term survival.
Further north in the Netherlands, talks between mainstream center-right parties on a possible deal with the anti-Muslim Party of Freedom broke down after leading members of the Christian Democratic Appeal refused to enter a government dependent on the party whose leader likens Islam to Nazism and wants to ban the Koran.
Elio di Rupo, the leader of Belgium's French-speaking Socialists who had been tasked with forging a governing coalition with the Flemish separatists, handed his resignation to King Albert II for the second time in less than a week. Last weekend, the king appealed for Di Rupo to make one last effort to form a government, but after his latest power-sharing proposal was snubbed by the nationalists Di Rupo said he'd had enough.
The country of 10 million has been mired in political deadlock since the June 13 election, when the Flemish nationalists won conclusively in the Dutch-speaking north, while Di Rupo's Socialists gained most votes in the French-speaking south.
Talks to find a compromise floundered on Flemish demands for more powers and public money to be devolved from the central government to regional authorities. Divisions have focused on how to fund Brussels, which is overwhelmingly French speaking, but claimed by Flemish nationalists as their capital.
Bart de Wever, the Flemish nationalist leader, has said he wants to strike a deal with the French speakers, but wants to ensure cut the flow of tax revenue from Flanders to poorer French-speaking regions. He also insists on rolling back minority rights granted to French-speaking minority living in Flemish territory around Brussels.
In the Netherlands, the firebrand anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders said his Party of Freedom was pulling out of coalition talks after senior Christian Democrats insisted they would not work with him. His withdrawal appeared to scupper weeks of talks focused on forging a right-wing government.
Meanwhile Dutch security services were reported to be stepping up their protection for Wilders after a radical Islamic cleric in Australia appealed over the Internet for European Muslims to have him beheaded.
The political stalemate in has put the spotlight on the monarchy in both countries. King Albert and Dutch Queen Beatrix normally play symbolic roles in their country's political life but they must now open talks with party leaders to decide who should try to fill the power vacuum.