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Belgium's King Albert II on Wednesday announced his abdication in favour of his son Philippe after two decades at the helm of the tiny country.
"I intend to abdicate on July 21," the sovereign said in a speech broadcast to the nation from the royal palace. "Prince Philippe is well prepared. He and Princess Mathilde have my entire confidence."
"So it is with serenity and confidence that I announce I intend to abdicate on July 21," he added.
In his short speech to the nation, read first in French then in Flemish, Belgium's two main languages, the 79-year-old monarch said he was too tired and too frail to continue to reign.
"I am at an age never attained by predecessors," he said. "My age and my health do not allow me to exercise my duties as I would like."
As the second son of King Leopold III (1901-1983) and Astrid of Sweden (1905-1935), Albert was not destined to reign but was forced to ascend to the throne in 1993 on the death of his older brother King Baudouin, who passed away without an heir.
His decision to step down is the first abdication in the history of Belgium. The country gained independence from the Netherlands in 1831.
As monarch, Albert's duties include representing Belgium at home and abroad on state visits, trade missions, and at high-level international meetings as well as taking an interest in Belgian society, culture and enterprise.
His son Philippe, 53, will be the seventh king from the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -- now known simply as the royal house of Belgium -- to have headed the constitutional monarchy since independence.
© 2013 AFP
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