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Belgium's King Albert II announces abdication

Belgium's King Albert II has said he plans to abdicate on the grounds of poor health, speaking to the country on national television. The monarch of 20 years is to be succeeded by his son, Philippe.

Belgium's King Albert II gives a televised address to the nation (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Lalmand/Pool)

Belgiens König Albert tritt ab

The Belgian king announced on Wednesday that he would give up the throne to allow his eldest son to take over.

"It is with serenity and full of confidence that I announce my intention to step down on July 21, 2013, our national holiday, in favour of the heir apparent, my son Philippe," King Albert II said.

"I realise that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to," said Albert.

"After a reign of 20 years I believe the moment is here to hand over the torch to the next generation. Prince Philippe is well prepared to succeed me."

Ahead of the speech, broadcast on all major television and radio networks, the palace said the king would meet key members of the government. The government later scheduled a press conference at which Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo praised 53-year-old Philippe, who has led trade delegations for Belgium abroad.

"He has already shown repeatedly how much he loves Belgium and the prince is willing to serve the country well. He can count on the support of the government," said Di Rupo.

Allegations and legal complications

The 79-year-old Albert, who has three children, became king in 1993 upon the death of his brother Baudouin, who died without an heir. Albert's son Philippe, 53, is currently next in line to the throne.

After he succeeded to the throne, Belgian media reported that Albert had fathered an illegitimate daughter in the 1960s.

The monarch became embroiled in a legal case this year when a woman claiming to be that daughter, Delphine Boel, summoned Albert and two of his children to court, demanding DNA evidence to prove her lineage.

Although the Belgian monarch has no executive powers, playing a largely ceremonial role, Albert has sought to unite Belgium at a time that has seen it increasingly divided along linguistic and regional lines. In 2011, he helped steer politicians to a deal that brought to an end the country's record 541 days without a government.

rc/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)