Belgian premier butt of linguistic gaffe

BRUSSELS — The premier of linguistically-divided Belgium, Yves Leterme, came in for a shock on being told Tuesday that French was the nation's official language as well as his own -- though he is a Flemish-speaker.

The gaffe came when Leterme, who has a French name and speaks the language fluently, visited the prestigious College of Europe in Bruges, flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on an official visit to Belgium.

Delivering a speech to the pair, the head of the institution, Spaniard Inigo Mendez de Vigo, said he would conclude in Belgium's official language, French, "the language of Yves Leterme", raising eyebrows in the room.

Leterme currently heads a caretaker government following inconclusive general elections in June that have left the country rudderless as parties on both sides of the linguistic divide quarrel over a deal to form a government.

Sixty percent of the country's around 10 million people speak Flemish, the remainder French.