The current coalition took office March 20, 2008, following a political impasse over a related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.

Earlier on Monday, there appeared to have been hope for a reconciliation after Didier Reynders, the deputy premier and finance minister, had said that "all the elements were in place" following meetings with the five coalition partners and two smaller green parties.

However, he later asked the king that he be allowed to be relieved of the task of attempting to form a new ruling bloc.

"Is it possible to look for a negotiated solution with the same partners? I don't think so," Reynders was quoted by the Belga news agency as saying.

Political will

Belgian media reported that Reynders efforts floundered as liberal and Christian-Democrat Flemish parties were not minded to return to the negotiating table before Thursday.

"From now on, we have to do all we can to stop making ourselves look ridiculous in the eyes of Belgium, Europe and the world"

Ecolo party

"We wanted a negotiated solution but it was quickly clear that there was no political will," Alexander De Croo, the head of the Dutch-speaking Liberals, said.

The Flemish liberal party said it had lost confidence in the government because of its failure to resolve a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties over electoral boundaries around the capital, Brussels.

Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking northern Flanders and French-speaking southern Wallonia, with bilingual Brussels in between.

Strict language rules determine which tongue is used on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.

In 2003, the constitutional court ruled the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde voting district illegal because it violated the separation of Dutch- and French-language regions.

The district includes Brussels, which is officially bilingual, but also encompasses 20-odd towns in Dutch-speaking Flanders around the capital.

The latest political crisis, which follows previous collapses in 2007 and 2008, comes just months before Belgium takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

"From now on, we have to do all we can to stop making ourselves look ridiculous in the eyes of Belgium, Europe and the world," the French-speaking Green opposition party, Ecolo, said.