Divided Belgium to swear in new king

Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:44pm EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium will swear in a new king on Sunday with festivities but also questions over the political influence of the monarch and the acceptance of Philippe as the king of all Belgians.

The 183-year-old country is split across the middle, with many Dutch speakers seeking greater independence for Flanders in the north and wary of a monarchy seen rooted in the once powerful, but now poorer French-speaking Wallonia in the south.

"One king, two nations" was a headline in French language business daily L'Echo, while Dutch newspaper De Standaard pushed the royals deep inside its weekend issue, leading instead with a story on tax.

Fewer than half of people in Flanders believe Philippe will be a good king after 79-year-old King Albert II steps aside, against two-thirds in Wallonia, according to a poll.

Business leaders are similarly divided, with French speakers content with the status quo, but Dutch-speaking counterparts saying the monarch no longer have a political role.

Belgian kings - and 53-year-old Philippe will be the seventh - do plenty of handshaking and ribbon-cutting, but also appoint mediators and potential government heads to steer coalition talks after elections, no small task in Belgium.

After the inconclusive 2010 vote, Albert held countless meetings with Belgian politicians as they failed for a world record 541 days to form a new government.

The Flemish separatist N-VA, the largest party in parliament but eventually dropped from coalition talks, has been particularly vocal about limiting royal powers.   Continued...

Belgium's King Albert II (2nd L), Queen Paola (L), Crown Prince Philippe (2nd R) and Crown Princess Mathilde attend the national ball in the Marolles district to celebrate King Albert II's 20th anniversary of reign, in Brussels July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman