New king puts positive gloss on divisions within Belgium

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Belgium has a new king after Philippe succeeded his father, Albert, following the monarch’s abdication.

Yesterday, 79-year-old Albert signed away his rights as the kingdom’s largely ceremonial ruler at the royal palace in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

Less than two hours later, the nation got a new king when Philippe, 53, pledged to abide the laws and constitution of the nation.

In protest, one Flemish separatist party boycotted the ceremony while the biggest opposition party, the N-VA New Flemish Alliance, sent only a limited delegation.

“We are full-blooded democrats and the purest form of democracy is the republic,” said Jan Jambon, the parliamentary leader of the party.

Their absence also highlighted one of the biggest challenges Philippe will face in his reign – how to remain relevant as a unitary symbol in a nation ever more drifting apart between the northern Flemings and the southern Francophones.

Philippe made no attempt to paper over those cracks, instead casting the country’s division as one of its strengths.

“Time and again we find the balance between unity and diversity,” King Philippe said. “Belgium’s strength is precisely that we make room for our differences.”

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