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Crown prince takes throne as Queen Beatrix abdicates

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander became the first Dutch king since 1890 and the youngest monarch in Europe on Tuesday when Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son, who was once known among the Dutch for his libertine ways.


Crown Prince Willem-Alexander became the youngest monarch in Europe on Tuesday when his mother Queen Beatrix, 75, passed the royal torch to her son by signing an act of abdication at the royal palace.

Willem-Alexander, who turned 46 on Saturday, is the first Dutch king since 1890 and Amsterdam has prepared to welcome at least 800,000 visitors as Beatrix ends her 33-year-long reign.

The popular queen is known for her formal court, but Willem-Alexander has already said that he and his Argentine-born queen consort, Maxima, will not be "protocol fetishists".

The king was sworn in rather than crowned this afternoon at the Nieuwe Kerk deconsecrated church, a stone's throw from the palace, before a joint session of the houses of parliament.

The investiture was attended by a number of other royals-in-waiting and will include Britain's Prince Charles, Spain's Prince Felipe and Japan's Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. Protocol dictates that reigning sovereigns are not invited.

Future Dutch king Willem-Alexander has undergone a remarkable transformation from his image as a boozing Casanova, ill-equipped for the throne, to a serious family man well loved by his people.

He has been preparing for his accession by taking on more and more duties in a bid to shake off his immature reputation. The soon-to-be king won many plaudits in an interview two weeks before the ceremony when he said: "We are people. People make mistakes,” adding: "If you make mistakes you must learn from them and you have to ensure that they don't happen again."

His popularity rose to new heights after the interview, with an opinion poll saying Monday that 69 percent of the Dutch trust the new king, an increase of 10 percentage points from last year.

Seen as more progressive and closer to ordinary people than even his mother, Willem-Alexander has further stamped modernity on the Royal House through his visits abroad and an online blog.

In November 2009, he sold a luxurious holiday property on the Mozambican coast after public pressure from those who condemned it as a garish asset in the poverty-stricken southeast African country.

But it was his meeting with the Argentine-born Maxima Zorreguieta in 1999 and their subsequent marriage in 2002 that changed his image into that of a serious royal and family man, worthy of the Dutch throne.

Maxima, 41, has won the hearts of the Dutch through her efforts to learn the language fluently and her willingness to reach out to ordinary Dutch citizens. The couple have three young daughters who are adored by the Dutch: Princesses Catharina-Amalia, 9, Alexia, 7, and Ariane, 5.

But the past of Maxima's father as an official of the Argentine military junta in the 1970s cast a brief cloud over their relationship.

Her father was not allowed to attend his daughter's wedding in the Netherlands, and her mother also stayed away out of solidarity. Maxima's family will also not be present at the enthronement ceremony in Amsterdam's historic 600-year-old Nieuwe Kerk church.

Troubled youth

The oldest of three sons, Willem-Alexander had a difficult adolescence and was sent to complete high school in Wales.

On returning to the Netherlands for his military service in the Navy and then to study, the young prince built an image in the Dutch media as a hard-partying and troublesome royal, earning him the nickname "Prince Pils" after Pilsen beer.

But after graduating in 1993, he started travelling the country and took steps to shake off his negative image.

He also developed an interest in water management, an effort rewarded in 2006 with his appointment as chairman of the UN secretary general's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

"My image is not something that keeps me busy every day,” the future king said in a 1997 interview. "But I find it sad that one picture in a paper of me holding a glass [of beer] has more influence on my image than ... years of training [to be the future king]." 

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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