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Queen Paola of Belgium in tears as King Albert gives up his throne to son Phillipe


Brussels, 21 Jul 2013

Queen Paola of Belgium wipes away a tear as her husband, King Albert II, gives up his crown.

She broke down as the 79-year-old monarch thanked her for her love and support during his 20-year rule.

Paola was sitting next to her successor, Princess Mathilde, for the emotional ceremony as Albert formally abdicated in favour of his son, 53-year-old Crown Prince Philippe.

Before officially stepping down, the king also choked back tears as told how he believed Philippe was the best man to try to unite a nation historically divided by tradition and language - with Flemish spoken in the northern region of Flanders, and French in the poorer south, Wallonia.

He said at his son's investiture in the Royal Palace at Brussels on Belgium's national day: "My final recommendation to all those gathered here is to work without rest for keeping Belgium together." One French-language paper, L'Echo, recently ran the headline: "One king, two nations."

But there was an air of festivity as crowds gathered outside the palace in scorching sunshine. Many carried Belgian flags, some with Philippe's face on them as the new king and queen waved from a balcony.

"It's a bit of history so we wanted to be here," said Xavier De Graef from Liege.

Republican campaigners want Flanders to break away from Belgium.

There are also calls to strip the monarchy of any say in political decision-making - as happened in the Netherlands last year.