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Belgian Constitutional Reform Talks Stall

BELGIAN politicians stepped back from the brink of a crisis yesterday, saying they would thrash out the country's 1993 budget before resuming disbanded talks on constitutional reform later in the year.

The talks among seven government and opposition political parties about giving more autonomy to French- and Dutch-speaking regions collapsed on Friday over the issues of finance and individual political rights.

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The breakdown seemed to throw the future of the ruling four-party coalition into question.

But politicians said they would continue to support the center-left government.

"I have relieved the government of the obligation of having to table these [reform] plans before it passes its budget," co-chairman of the talks Gerard Deprez said.

Belgium is trying to get its budget deficit, down to about 4.9 percent of gross national product for 1993.

It has to find ways to cut spending, and wealthier Dutch-speakers from Flanders resent the huge social security payouts they make to depressed francophone Wallonia.

Inconclusive elections last November saw steady gains for environmentalist and extremist groups such as radical Flemish nationalists at the expense of traditional ruling parties.

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