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Belgium's King Albert II to abdicate

Monarch says that he will vacate throne in favour of his son, Crown Prince Philippe, on July 21.

Last Modified: 04 Jul 2013 10:35
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Belgian King Albert II will abdicate in favour of his son Philippe on July 21 [AP]

Belgium's King Albert II has announced that he will abdicate on July 21 and leave the throne to his son Philippe, saying at 79 he felt too old to carry out his duties properly.

Announcement that he will step down, after two decades in power, came in televised statement, on Wednesday.

"I realise that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to," the king said in his address.

His 53-year-old heir, Philippe, studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and Stanford University, and has led trade delegations to countries such as the United States, China and Thailand.

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said of Philippe that he has already shown repeatedly how much he loves Belgium and that the prince was willing to serve the country well. "He can count on the support of the government", added the prime minister.

Unity figure

Albert II is the first Belgian king to voluntarily give up the largely ceremonial post. He is a rare uniting factor in the linguistically divided country which in recent years has seen more powers devolved to regional governments.

In 2010 and 2011, when parties on both sides of the linguistic divide were locked in a record-setting 541 days of coalition talks to form a federal government, it was up to the king to appoint the party leaders heading the negotiations.

Albert II, a renowned bon viveur, was popular with both people and politicians for his easy going style.

However, the monarchy has faced criticism from politicians and the local media, especially when it emerged that Queen Fabiola, the widow of King Baudouin, had planned to pass on an estate in Spain by using a trust to avoid paying tax. The reports caused the Belgian government to reform the system of state allowances and taxation for members of the royal family.

The abdication of Albert II comes after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands vacated the Dutch throne in April in favour of her son, Willem-Alexander.

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