( AFP ) - Belgium's marathon political crisis lurched into a new phase Wednesday as leaders of the main Dutch- and French-speaking parties agreed on forming an interim government to run the divided country for the next few months.
The country has been locked in a political impasse for more than six months, with feuding parties from the country's two main linguistic regions unable to form a coalition government since a general election on June 10.
"There has been a tough electoral campaign, there have been efforts to form a government, but now we are turning the page," said Yves Leterme, head of the Christian Democrats in the country's richer Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders.
"We are making a collective effort to work as a team," added Leterme, who hopes to become prime minister in an eventual permanent coalition government after his party came out on top in the June polls.
Leterme's party plus another Flemish party and three parties from the poorer francophone southern region of Wallonia agreed overnight to form an interim Christian Democrat/Liberal/Socialist coalition to handle national affairs while a definitive administration is hammered out.
The interim government is expected to be in place within days following the agreement.
Outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who accepted the role of forming and heading the interim government from King Albert II, has said it will be of a very limited duration and will stand down by Easter Sunday next year, March 23.
Since the June election, Flemish Liberal Verhofstadt's outgoing administration has been running the country, but has been able only to deal with day-to-day affairs rather than to take more strategic decisions.
The more powerful interim cabinet will spare Belgium the inglorious fate of setting a new European record in early January for the longest period without a new government, topping the Netherlands' best of 208 days in 1977.
Under Belgium's federal system, the government is led by a coalition of parties from Flanders -- home to about 60 percent of the population -- and Wallonia.
But the two main linguistic communities have been unable to overcome differences on "institutional reform" -- essentially the devolution of federal powers to the regions.
Parties in Flanders are keen on assuming more powers while those in the south fear both political and economic losses.
There are even growing fears that the country could split in two along its linguistic faultline.
Only the Brussels capital area is officially bilingual.
Verhofstadt was thrust back into the political limelight earlier this month after Leterme gave up his lengthy bid to form a four-party Christian-Democrat/Liberal coalition.
In the new interim administration, francophone Liberal leader Didier Reynders, the outgoing finance minister, will first deputy premier.
Leterme himself will serve as the second deputy premier, while retaining his hopes of taking the top job in a final coalition.
French daily Le Soir hailed the new government with the upbeat headline "The crisis is over", opining that the interim government would prefigure the definitive version.