Majority of Flemish think Belgium will split-poll

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BRUSSELS, Sep 18 (Reuters) Two-thirds of the Flemish community from the northern Dutch-speaking region of Belgium think the country will sooner or later split, a poll by Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws showed today.

The paper also said almost every second Flemish person, or 46.1 per cent, wanted Belgium to split, indicating separatists in the region are gathering momentum amid a political impasse.

Belgians held an election 100 days ago but still have no government, with Dutch and French speakers wrangling over how much control the federal government should have.

Flemish people who are in favour of reforming the state want to make Wallonia, a region which is poorer and has higher unemployment, more accountable and keep more money in the wealthy Dutch-speaking region.

The dispute has prompted an international media frenzy with newspapers across Europe questioning whether Belgium should continue to exist.

But while The Economist called for a ''praline divorce'', echoing the peaceful ''velvet divorce'' of Czechoslovakia, senior politicians have said there is no chance of a split.

''One hundred days to form a government? We've seen worse ...

The situation is not so dramatic as to suggest we will not find a solution,'' Louis Michel, a Francophone liberal politician and European commissioner for aid, told a Tuesday news conference.

''Clearly, the more we let run scenarios of catastrophe, the more we make comparisons between Belgium and Czechoslovakia that I consider pointless, all we are doing is to feed fear in Belgium for no reason.'' Political leaders continue to negotiate in the hope of finding a compromise that works for everyone.

The outright winner of the popular vote, Yves Leterme, head of the Dutch-speaking Flemish Christian Democrat party, gave up his role of forming a new government because of the impasse.

Now another member of his party, Herman Van Rompuy, has been appointed by the king to explore with other political leaders how a coalition agreement could be reached.

According to the survey, Leterme, widely thought by Francophones and political observers to hold Flemish rather than Belgian interests at heart, still has the trust of the people in his region with 60.4 per cent saying he should be prime minister.

Leterme irked Francophones with his policy to devolve more power to the regions. Flanders, economically strong, complains it has to subsidise French-speaking Wallonia.

The survey showed 85.5 per cent of Flemish people believed they should stick to their plans to reform the state and 77.3 per cent believe this should be the priority of the new government.

REUTERS ARB KP1758

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