Belgian king turns to French speaker to break political impasse

BRUSSELS - Belgium's King Philippe turned to the head of the French-speaking liberal party on Friday to lead talks to form a government after a four-week mission by the leader of the Flemish separatists ended in failure.

Charles Michel accepted the task of seeing what coalitions might be viable and would report back to the king on July 4, the palace said in a statement.

Michel's Mouvement Reformateur (MR) won 20 of the 150 seats in the Belgian parliament in the May 25 election, putting his party in third place behind the Flemish separatist N-VA and the French-speaking Socialists of interim prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

N-VA leader Bart De Wever abandoned his mediation role on Wednesday, raising fears of another lengthy spell of political stalemate after the record 18-month impasse of 2010-2011.

Michel could seek to revive the outgoing six-party coalition that ruled under Di Rupo, although relations have soured since the French-speaking Socialists spurned the liberals in forming regional governments in Wallonia and Brussels.

His party's other options are a centre-right government, dubbed the "kamikaze" as it would be the only French-speaking representative and risk heavy defeat in a subsequent election, or an awkward union of the four largest parties.

The electoral system - effectively two elections with separate French-speaking and Dutch-speaking parties appealing to different voters - means at least four parties will be needed to form a governing coalition.