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BRUSSELS | Hopes of an end to Belgium’s longest political crisis evaporated Wednesday when a powerful Flemish separatist party rejected a new bid to kick-start government coalition talks.

After more than six months without a government, leaders of the language-divided country had a Wednesday deadline to announce a resumption of talks on a new political compromise to bridge the gulf between speakers of Dutch and French.

On the table was a 60-page proposal to reform the Belgian state, offering each of the country’s communities more autonomy in line with demands from the powerful independence-minded New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

But the N-VA, which won the top results at the country’s indecisive elections in June, said it had “fundamental remarks,” or objections, on the text.

Leaving the door half-open and half-shut, it said: “We will see if these remarks are acceptable to the other parties. We will then conclude whether there is any sense in engaging in final negotiations.”


NATO: $20 billion for Afghan training

KABUL | By the end of the year, NATO will have spent $20 billion on developing Afghan security forces since the start of 2010 and will maintain a training presence through at least 2016, the commander of the training mission said Wednesday.

Soaring illiteracy rates among service members and a shortage of specialized trainers, however, remain major hurdles as Afghans prepare to take control of securing their nation by the 2014 deadline for NATO to withdraw combat forces, said Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell.

“We have made great strides in providing the Afghan national security force with both capable and sustainable weapons, vehicles and equipment over this last year, while building a very strong and self-reliant security force,” Gen. Caldwell said.

The $20 billion for 2010 and 2011 is paying for training, equipment and infrastructure. The figure is a large increase over the $20 billion spent between 2003 and 2009.

From wire dispatches and staff reports