April 5, 2011 / 4:52 PM / 8 years ago

Belgian king angry over son's Congo trip: palace

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s Prince Laurent has faced rare criticism from the king over an unauthorized trip to Congo last month that has led some lawmakers to say the errant son should lose his state allowance.

Belgium's Prince Laurent takes part in a traditional New Year reception for international institutions' representatives, government members and business leaders at the Brussels Royal Palace, in this file picture taken January 27, 2009. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

The palace confirmed Tuesday reports that King Albert, 76, was angry about his youngest son’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony, which the government and the monarch had advised against.

The 47-year-old prince, 12th in line to the throne, travelled to Congo for a week in mid-March, officially to study deforestation. During his trip, he was greeted by Congolese President Laurent Kabila.

Belgian has strained ties with Congo, which was the personal fiefdom of King Leopold II in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and was ruled over by Belgium until independence in 1960. During the colonial era the country was stripped of mineral wealth and tens of thousands of people died in indentured slavery.

Belgian caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme told parliament last week he planned to remind the prince of his duties, raising the possibility that Laurent could lose his tax-free 300,000 euro ($425,500) annual royal stipend.

“I have no doubt that he will take my comments to heart and make a clear choice between respecting the balance or renouncing his rights,” Leterme said.

Laurent’s lawyer, Pierre Legros, told magazine Humo in an interview published Tuesday the palace and the government were treating Laurent as a child and that the king’s chief adviser was orchestrating a campaign against the prince.

Legros said Laurent was considering relinquishing his allowance. Laurent himself was subsequently quoted in Belgian media as saying he had no intention of giving it up.

The monarchy in Belgium is not as high profile as it is Britain or other European countries, and is generally left to its own devices. It is respected more than loved by the people.

Laurent is no stranger to controversy. His love of fast cars has led to him being caught for speeding more than once and his villa is reported to have been furnished at great expense.

Belgian ministers have frequently got themselves into trouble when discussing modern-day Congo. Former Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht criticized the country’s record on transparency and corruption during a visit in 2008.

Kabila has said his country does not appreciate being lectured to from Belgium and wanted a “mature” rather than a “master-slave” relationship.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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