Belgian King Albert reappointed Guy Verhofstadt as prime minister on Friday to head an interim government charged with trying to bridge Belgium's ever-widening linguistic divide.
"The king received Mr Guy Verhofstadt this evening at the palace in Laeken ( Brussels) and named him prime minister," the royal palace said in a brief statement along with a list of ministers issued shortly after midnight.
The installation of Verhofstadt's five-party cabinet, set to keep on Didier Reynders as finance minister, will ease but not end a political crisis that began with a parliamentary election more than six months ago.
The cabinet will be sworn in on Friday. The new prime minister will then address parliament ahead of a vote of confidence, expected to take place on Sunday.
Verhofstadt will stay on until March 23 and seek to draft a budget for 2008, take urgent measures to combat rising fuel and food prices and prepare reforms to devolve more powers to the regions.
The coalition deal he sealed earlier this week buys Belgium three months' time, but will not resolve the dispute between Dutch-speaking Flemish parties that demand more control of their economy and French-speakers who resist change.
The Flemish Christian Democrat leader and former premier of Flanders, Yves Leterme, has twice failed to bridge the gap between the north and south of the country.
The deadlock, which has lasted a record 195 days, sparked speculation that the 177-year-old country will split into Dutch- and French-speaking states.
The king turned to Verhofstadt, who has been in power since 1999, as a last resort, even though his Flemish Liberal Party was among the biggest losers in the election.
His coalition will include the Flemish Christian Democrats and Liberals and their French-speaking equivalents as well as the francophone Socialists.
Verhofstadt has said the election results should be respected and that Leterme, whose party clearly won the most votes, should succeed him as prime minister by the end of March.
That will likely depend on Verhofstadt's success in kick-starting reforms to give more powers to regions, which could reduce tensions among potential governing parties. It is not yet clear how the transition could take place and which parties would be in the future government.
Analysts say the interim government should calm the concerns of voters and foreign investors by showing someone is finally in control, although it does not settle the dispute over state reform or really ease tension between the regions.
Affluent Flanders, where separatist tendencies are highest, wants control of labor market policy and the ability to vary taxes, currently federal government matters.
French-speaking Wallonia, where unemployment is more than double that of Flanders, feels it will lose out from reform and that the federal state will become an empty shell.
An opinion poll published on Monday indicated that a vast majority of Belgians wanted the country to stay together, but that far fewer believed it would still exist in 20 years. ( Reuters )