updated 12/22/2008 3:15:21 PM ET 2008-12-22T20:15:21

Belgium's King Albert II accepted the resignation of the government Monday, opening the way for negotiations to form a new coalition following the botched bailout of the Fortis bank.

The king's decision ended three days of closed-door negotiations that began last week when the government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered to step down. The offer followed allegations from the highest court that the government sought to interfere in a court case on the bailout of the troubled Fortis bank.

It is likely the leading political parties will now seek to broker a coalition without immediately calling for new elections. Most likely, the king will appoint a go-between to seek common ground between the major parties to form a new coalition as quickly as possible to deal with the financial meltdown and other pressing issues.

"The King has accepted the resignation of my government and myself," said a terse statement from Leterme.

After Leterme's office was accused of trying to influence an appeals court that had to rule on an effort by Fortis shareholders to freeze government action on the bank, justice minister Jo Vandeurzen resigned Friday. That was quickly followed by Leterme's offer to have the government resign.

The separation of powers is a cornerstone of Belgian parliamentary democracy and the alleged attempts by the government to influence the course of judicial process infuriated partners in a coalition government that was already shaky.

"I insist that at no moment there was any attempt to influence, let alone attempt to obstruct, due process," said Leterme in a statement released Monday. He had already indicated he did not want to be part of a new government, instead seeking the freedom to defend him from the allegations.

Most observers have ruled out early elections because of the pressing need for government action to counter the financial crisis.

Instead several scenarios are considered, from an interim government until new elections to coincide with the European Parliament polls early June or a full-blown government to rule the rest of the legislature until 2011.

The future of Fortis, once the country's largest bank, is now in question as the government tries to proceed with the sale of most of the business to France's BNP Paribas. Thousands of jobs are at risk and many Belgian shareholders have seen their stakes become nearly worthless.

Leterme headed a coalition of Christian democrats, liberals and socialists, split into Dutch-speaking and Francophone parties.

The Fortis case had been one of Leterme's biggest tests since he became prime minister in December 2007. The formation of his coalition ended six months in which Belgium had no government. No party won a clear majority in the June 2007 elections.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments