04/07/13 04:15 CET
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Royal fever has gripped Belgium after King Albert II made the surprise announcement that he is to abdicate.
In a televised address the 79-year-old blamed poor health, saying he could do longer fulfil his duties and set July 21 as the day when he will leave the throne.
Succeeding him will be his son, Crown Prince Philippe.
While the monarch has no executive powers and is largely ceremonial, it tends to be a unifying factor in the linguistically divided country which has recently seen more powers devolved to its regional governments.
Many Belgians said they will miss King Albert when he retires. “Personally he means a lot to me, said one Brussels resident. “Today I live in a country which is united and where everybody understands each other. I am going to miss him very much.”
Another valued King Albert’s diplomatic skills: “We had no government here for 500 days and I think that the king played a major role in keeping the country together.”
Our correspondent Frédéric Bouchard said: “With the abdication of Albert II announced, the question on everyone lips is this: is his son Philippe ready to reign? Known to be uneasy dealing with the media, he will also have to cope with the Flemish political parties who are reluctant to do any favours for the Belgian monarchy.
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