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Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

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News,World,Europe,EU,Belgium

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian national elections on Sunday yielded a big victory for the right-wing, regionalist N-VA party in northern Flanders while the left remained strong in southern Wallonia, setting the stage for protracted government negotiations that the kingdom is already famous for.

"Our complicated country has become even more complicated," said N-VA leader Bart De Wever after projections showed him with 34 seats in the 150 seat House, a gain of 7 to become by far the biggest party in parliament.

The Francophone PS socialists of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo were projected to lose a seat to fall to 25 but remain the biggest in his region and second in the nation.

During the election campaign, Di Rupo and De Wever used every opportunity to say how much they disliked each other. Now they will likely be forced into in national coalition talks that will be extremely difficult and protracted.

It took Belgium 541 days four years ago to form a government with N-VA in opposition, leaving the world in awe and financial markets nervous as the parties kept bickering over constitutional changes to give Flanders more autonomy.

Now, the same question what to do about the kingdom is back again. The country's two diverse groups are its 6.5 million Dutch speakers in northern Flanders and 4.5 million Francophones in southern Wallonia.

"The results North and South are very, very different, more diverging than ever," he said.

Di Rupo is from poorer Wallonia, which traditionally leans in favor of national unity because the region would likely find it difficult to survive on its own economically.

De Wever has traditionally campaigned on a platform that Wallonia is a burden to Flanders, preventing it realizing its economic potential. That is why his party wants action leading toward more autonomy as soon as possible while no longer promoting an outright breakup of the nation.

He stayed away Sunday from talk of separatism and Flemish independence, urging the next government to tackle the country's problems after a coalition is formed.

"We need to kickstart our economy. We need to create jobs. We need to reform our social system," De Wever said. "We do not want a protracted crisis."

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Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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