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Belgian king names two to form government - 16 months after election

FILE PHOTO: Belgium's King Philippe delivers a speech on National Day at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium, July 16, 2020. Didier Lebrun/Pool via Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Sixteen months after elections, Belgium may finally have a new government as King Philippe on Wednesday tasked the caretaker finance minister and the leader of the Francophone Socialist Party with forming a ruling coalition.

Paul Magnette, in his second stint as leader of the Socialist Party, and Alexander De Croo, who formerly headed the Dutch-speaking liberals and is one of four deputy premiers, will report on their progress to the king on Sept. 28, the palace said in a statement.

One of the two men could end up as prime minister of Belgium, where the European Union and NATO are based.

The Flemish Christian-Democrats, the two liberal parties, the Francophone and Dutch-speaking socialist parties and the two Green parties have been in discussions in recent weeks on the possibility of governing the country together.

Belgium has been under a caretaker administration since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in March. A standoff between the various political parties since the election in May last year has dragged out the formation of a government.

Belgium’s linguistic divide has always been a stumbling block in forming a government. After the 2010 election, the country took a world record 541 days to assemble a government.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee with additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich