Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme's five-month-old government collapsed on Thursday after the Flemish liberal party pulled out of his coalition.
The move comes as Belgian lawmakers are set to vote on a proposed ban on wearing face-covering veils in public, a day after neighbouring France proposed enacting similar legislation.
Leterme, 49, called an emergency meeting of his cabinet early on Thursday afternoon to inform ministers that his second term in office was at an end, and left for the royal palace to tender his government's resignation to King Albert.
"Yves Leterme had no other choice than to inform us that he would go to the king immediately to tender the government's resignation," Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx told reporters.
Without the backing of the centre-right Open VLD, the remaining four parties in government still have 76 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament but it would be hard to govern with such a slim majority.
Open VLD 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.
"We have not agreed on a negotiated solution and therefore Open VLD no longer has confidence in the government," said Alexander De Croo, the party's chairman.
Belgium is divided between the Dutch-speaking majority and the French-speaking minority. They are bitterly at odds over the question of who should have more political rights over Brussels, a largely French-speaking city in Dutch-speaking territory.
"Vote on ban"
The scheduled vote on Thursday in Brussels comes after the federal parliament's home affairs committee voted unanimously on March 31 to endorse a nationwide ban on clothing that does not allow the wearer to be fully identified.
The ban would include the full-face niqab and the burqa, a shapeless full-body cloak that covers the face with a fabric grille.
Those who ignore the ban could face a fine of up to $34 and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days.
Belgium's governing parties and opposition both appear to agree on the ban, and the full house is expected to easily endorse the draft law.
If enacted, the bill would make Belgium the first European country to ban the garments.
"Ban attempts criticised"
Almost 10 per cent of France's 62 million population is Muslim.
Most Muslim women, in France's immigrant communities and around the world, do not wear a full veil, but the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, is widely worn on the Arabian peninsular and in the Gulf states.
Human Rights Watch warned against such legislation, in a statement issued late Wednesday criticising the Belgian initiative.
"Bans like this lead to a lose-lose situation," said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"They violate the rights of those who choose to wear the veil and do nothing to help those who are compelled to do so."
There was no evidence that wearing the full veil in public threatened public safety, public order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, she added.
"At a time when Muslims in Europe feel more vulnerable than ever, the last thing needed is a ban like this, treating pious Muslim women like criminals won't help integrate them," Sunderland added.
Belgian govt collapses amid veil ban threat after France - UPDATED
Belgian government collapsed as MPs are set to vote on a proposed ban on wearing face-covering veils in public, a day after France move.