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Belgian King Abdicates, Crown Prince Assumes Throne

Belgium's crown prince Philippe has been sworn in as the country's seventh monarch, succeeding his father Albert II, who abdicated on Sunday after a 20-year reign.

Albert, 79, resigned the throne on Sunday, citing ill health. He officially signed away his rights to the largely ceremonial post in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who holds the real political party in Belgium, a 183-year-old constitutional monarchy.

About two hours later, Philippe, 53, which the BBC describes as "an Oxford and Stanford-educated, trained air force pilot" took the oath, promising to uphold the constitution.

In his final address as king on Belgium's National Day Sunday, Albert, speaking in French, said his country must remain a "source of inspiration" to Europe. He thanked an audience of some 250 dignitaries and political leaders "for all that you have achieved during my reign".

Albert also said he hoped his country, which is split between some 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north and about 4.5 million French speakers in the south – can remain united, despite sharp differences. The tensions between the two linguistic halves of the country have brought down several governments over the years.

Belgium's biggest opposition party, the N-VA New Flemish Alliance, which wants Flanders to break away and establish a republic, sent only a limited delegation to the royal ceremony.

The BBC quoted the party's parliamentary leader, Jan Jambon, as saying the occasion of the new monarch "leaves me cold." Another Flemish separatist party boycotted the ceremony altogether.

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