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Belgium's future queen Elisabeth turns 18

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Brussels (AFP)

Belgium's likely future queen Elisabeth was feted for her 18th birthday on Friday in a symbolic moment for the royal house of the linguistically-divided EU nation.

"Eighteen years is the transition to adulthood ... The country can count on my commitment," Elisabeth said, dressed in an ivory dress beside a visibly moved Queen Mathilde and the reigning King Philippe.

"Happy birthday, my dear Elisabeth. Spread your wings, be happy. This is what I wish you wholeheartedly," the king told the eldest of his four children in a ceremony broadcast live on national TV.

Elisabeth's prospects of ascending to the throne are still relatively far off, given that her father is 59 and has reigned since 2013.

But the ceremony organised at the elegant Royal Palace in Brussels looked like an early coronation, with the entire government and key political leaders attending.

Now of age and first in the order of succession, Elisabeth is on the path to become the first queen of Belgium, a country that has known only kings since its creation in 1830.

Originally, the Belgian constitution stipulated that accession to the throne was reserved for the descendants of Leopold I by order of primogeniture "to the perpetual exclusion of women".

But the Salic law was abolished in 1991, as Belgium finally caught up with other modern monarchies with famous queens such as Victoria and Elizabeth II in Britain and the Netherlands with Beatrix and Juliana.

The King of the Belgians holds an essentially symbolic role, and the monarchy is often criticised by pro-independence Dutch-speakers in Flanders.

"An advertising show for the monarchy," headlined left-of-centre daily De Morgen.

But, like her father, Elisabeth is appreciated in the Dutch-speaking north, said Vincent Dujardin, professor at the Catholic University of Louvain.

"She has done all her schooling in Dutch," he said, which is unprecedented for a member of the Belgian royal family, formerly seen to favour French.

At the palace bash, Elisabeth was joined by 80 young people from all over Belgium who also celebrated their 18th birthday in 2019.

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