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Philippe becomes king of Belgium

Philippe has taken the oath before parliament to become Belgium’s seventh king after his father Albert abdicated as the head of this fractured nation.

Earlier Sunday, the 79-year-old Albert signed away his rights as the kingdom’s largely ceremonial ruler at the royal palace in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who holds the political power in this 183-year-old parliamentary democracy.

Less than two hours later, the nation of 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million Francophones got a new king when Philippe, 53, pledged to abide the laws and constitution of the nation.  In protest, one Flemish separatist party boycotted the ceremony while the biggest opposition party, the N-VA New Flemish Alliance, sent only a limited delegation without its leader Bart De Wever.  Early in the day, both Albert and Philippe mingled with the crowds under a royal blue sky following a Catholic ceremony that set off the festivities.

Albert announced his abdication plans less than three weeks ago, so there was little time to turn the occasion into a huge international event. No foreign royals were at the ceremony. Since the royal transition coincides with Belgium’s national day celebrations, a military parade had already been planned.

Philippe will face a tough task in the coming months. The fractious nation, divided by language, holds parliamentary elections in June 2014 amid calls for even more autonomy for the language groups.
After the last elections in 2010, it took a record 541 days before a government could be formed amid bickering about how much more power should be sapped from the central state to profit the separate language groups.  Unlike his five predecessors, Albert tried to avoid politics as much as possible and Philippe is expected to do likewise. 
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