Rebel Belgian prince in eye of storm over Congo mission

30th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belgium's unruly Prince Laurent hit new trouble Wednesday as politicians urged cutting off his state revenue for travelling without permission to former colony the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The troublesome 47-year-old prince, recently stripped of his driving licence for speeding, and castigated for travelling business class with economy-class tickets, flew to Kinshasa this month on an animal welfare mission, the premier's office said.

"The trip was neither agreed beforehand with the government nor the Palace," said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

"In spite of requests from the government and the palace to delay the trip to ensure its proper preparation, the prince decided not to delay his departure."

The youngest son of King Albert II and Queen Paola, and 12th in line to the throne of Belgium, Prince Laurent heads an association defending the rights of domestic and wild animals, the Prince Laurent Foundation.

Five decades after Congo won its independence from Belgium, official visits, even when private, remain diplomatically delicate with the government keen to avoid seen favouring any single political party as the country heads for elections.

"It was a private research trip, with a purely scientific aim, and not at all political," the prince said on Bel-RTL radio. "It was paid for by the Foundation and not by Belgium."

But Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere warned that the prince's refusal to heed the government threatened his 300,000-euro yearly allowance and Cooperation Minister Olivier Chastel said:

"When one is in Prince Laurent's situation one is very careful about the warnings of the prime minister."

A parliamentarian from Belgium's biggest political party, the Flemish nationalist N-VA, meanwhile said "the tax-payer cannot continue to pay for Laurent's escapades."

Leterme last month had already lashed out against his unprincely conduct for grabbing business-class seats with economy-class tickets.

Asked by parliament to comment on that episode, Leterme called it "incorrect" and said he was "distancing myself" from the prince, who is also a notorious traffic offender.

In the latest incident he was stripped of his licence for two weeks this year after being caught driving 30 kilometres (19 miles) an hour above the speed limit in downtown Brussels.

© 2011 AFP

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