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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian King Albert held talks on Saturday with political leaders after Prime Minister Yves Leterme's government collapsed over its handling of the Fortis rescue.
Here are possible ways out of the crisis:
The king could appoint a so-called emergency government, as he did last December when he recalled former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt after Leterme had failed for a second time to form a viable coalition.
Such a government could hold power until June, when a parliamentary election could be held at the same time as planned regional and EU votes.
An elder statesman such as Verhofstadt, his predecessor Jean-Luc Dehaene or Herman Van Rompuy, president of the lower house of parliament, might be possible stand-ins.
The government would have specified powers, meaning it would almost certainly be able to push through a budget.
It would also have to resolve the problems over the state purchase of Fortis and the sale of assets to BNP Paribas, which a Belgian appeal court froze a week ago, ordering that shareholders have a say.
The current five-party coalition could remain in power, but without Leterme at the helm.
The advantage is that the parties have signed a coalition deal for a full four-year term until 2011, when voters may benefit from an economic upturn with the Fortis debacle resolved.
The problem: who would want the poisoned chalice of being premier?
"It's very difficult to imagine who would want it. It's a terrible job," said Carl Devos, political scientist at Ghent University.
The new premier would have to deal with Fortis, the 2009 budget, economic and financial crisis and devolution of powers to the regions, an issue that divides more separatist-minded Dutch-speakers in Flanders from French-speakers.
It is also possible a six-party coalition could be formed to include the Flemish socialists in a government of national unity.
Leterme tendered his resignation in July after failing to reconcile Dutch-speaking parties' demands to give their Flemish region more power with French-speaking parties' fears that such a move could split the country.
The king could again refuse to accept Leterme's resignation and Leterme himself may want to remain prime minister.
However, his standing has fallen since July, with less obvious support from coalition partners.
He would also face the twin challenge of governing and defending his record before a parliamentary investigation into alleged meddling in the Fortis legal case.
Very much the wish of opposition parties, new elections could be called as early as February. However, the ruling parties are firmly against, aware that voters would likely punish them for a government collapse in the middle of an economic crisis.