Wed, Dec 07, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Belgium’s new gay prime minister went from rags to riches


Elio Di Rupo, who became Europe’s second openly gay government leader when he was sworn in yesterday as Belgium’s new prime minister, is a 60-year-old career politician with a storybook background.

Born to an Italian coal miner father and illiterate mother in a 1951 migrant shantytown, Di Rupo will be the first French-speaking leader of language--divided Belgium in more than 30 years and its first Socialist prime minister in almost four decades.

A statement late on Monday from the palace of King Albert II said: “The King this evening received Elio Di Rupo at Belvedere castle and named him prime minister.”

He takes over from Flemish center-right caretaker prime minister Yves Leterme after negotiating an end to the longest political impasse in the country’s history — a dubious world record of 541 days without a government.

Ironically, financial markets helped Di Rupo conclude the 18 months of tortuous negotiations, when a sudden credit downgrade from “AA+” to “AA” lent new urgency to talks between six parties to finalize a coalition deal.

One of the few center-left voices in crisis-hit Europe, the soft-spoken politician with a mop of dark hair and a craze for bow-ties takes office committed to cutting 11.3 billion euros (US$15.1 billion) off the national budget despite trade union anger.

No stranger to hardship, Di Rupo claims to have saved the best of the welfare system in Belgium’s upcoming budget.

The last of seven children, he was a year old when his father died and was left in the care of his mother while brothers and sisters were farmed off to welfare institutions.

Biographers say he owned a single pair of trousers, while one of his former teachers said he admitted when a teenager to “having two shirts and two pairs of pants my mother washes constantly.”

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