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Belgian parties reach agreement

Dutch and French-speaking parties in Belgium have reached a major breakthrough in negotiations to form a new government, a record 15 months after elections ended in stalemate.

The eight parties announced they had reached a deal on the break-up of an electoral district in and around bilingual Brussels, an issue that had vexed politicians for almost half a century.

The parties said in a statement that negotiations on other issues such as economic and social policy will continue.

"Our work is far from over and we still need a lot of negotiations," the parties said in a joint statement.

However after a 459-day stalemate, already considered by far a world record, news of the breakthrough was lauded in the Belgian media as historic.

"We have crossed a difficult bridge," said Joelle Milquet, the head of the French-speaking CdH party.

Over the past months, politicians increasingly started worrying about the pressure of financial markets doubtful about the long-term future of the country.

Caretaker prime minister Yves Leterme took as many social and economic decisions as his remit allowed but negotiators realised drastic action had to be taken, especially after Mr Leterme announced early this week he would leave his post at the end of the year at the latest.

The June 13, 2010, elections brought the Dutch-speaking separatist N-VA party to the fore, and at first it was included in the protracted negotiations. However when no compromise could be found, the traditional parties which have dominated Belgian politics for years decided to try it on their own in July.

The insistence on more self-rule in northern Belgium for six million Dutch-speaking Flemings was always central in negotiations. The parties representing the five million Francophones living in southern Wallonia and Brussels sought to maintain an institutional status quo.

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