Belgium plunged into crisis as PM offers resignation

Belgium plunged into crisis as PM offers resignation Brussels: Belgium plunged into political crisis on Thursday as Prime Minister Yves Leterme threw in the towel -- for the third time -- after a key Flemish party quit his coalition government.

The situation was in flux, however, as the king delayed a decision on whether to accept Laterme's resignation saying a political crisis would "seriously threaten" Belgium's role in Europe two months before the country assumes the EU presidency.

Flemish Christian democrat Leterme informed King Albert II of his decision to quit, after just five months at the helm, from the job he inherited from predecessor Herman Van Rompuy who left to become the first EU president.

Leterme's decision was forced when his Flemish liberal allies, the Open VLD, quit the five-party coalition Thursday over a long-running row between the country's Dutch-speaking and francophone communities over electoral rules in flash-point suburbs of Brussels.

The political crisis also made it unlikely that Belgian lawmakers would hold a much-anticipated vote today on imposing a ban on wearing the Islamic burqa in public.

"There was no other choice but for the government to resign," Finance Minister Didier Reynders told reporters after the Open VLD party withdrew its support.

The fresh explosion of deep-seated tensions between the richer Dutch-speaking Flemish and poorer francophone region of Wallonia to the south casts a cloud over attempts by Belgium to set an assertive agenda ahead of assuming the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.