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EU leaders at odds over bid by Italy, Belgium, others to ease bloc's budget, debt rules

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BRUSSELS - European Union leaders are clashing over whether to loosen the bloc's rules overseeing national budgets and limiting how much debt governments may take on.

Italy, Belgium and others are arguing more flexibility is needed to foster growth but the more hawkish northern European nations including Germany reject easing the rules limiting deficit and debt levels.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said Friday at a meeting of EU leaders there needs to be "more flexibility, specifically for certain countries seeking to balance their budgets a few years later."

But Finnish Prime Minister Aleksander Stubb said at the summit, where leaders will determine the 28-nation bloc's strategic priorities for the coming five years, that stability was paramount to avoid another financial crisis. He insisted the rules "need no more flexibility."

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