Belgium's new King: Albert II abdicates after 20-year reign to make way for son Philippe

King Philippe becomes the news monarch after his father announced plans to abdicate less than three weeks ago

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The Independent Online

Belgium will welcome their new King on Sunday as King Albert II abdicates following a 20-year reign and hands over the throne to his son, Crown Prince Philippe.

The 79-year-old King will first sign away his rights as the largely ceremonial ruler of the kingdom in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who holds the political power in the 183-year-old parliamentary democracy.

Philippe, 53, will take the king's oath before the nation's legislators at the parliament building a short walk across the Royal Park after the morning ceremony at the royal palace.  

Afterward, King Philippe and his wife, the new Queen Mathilde, are expected to greet the crowds below in a balcony scene at the palace before a show of fireworks marking the end of ceremonies.

Albert announced his abdication plans less than three weeks ago, leaving little time to turn the occasion into a huge international event. No foreign royals were expected to attend the crowning. A military parade had already been planned since the royal transition coincides with Belgium's national day celebrations.

Philippe could face a difficult task as the new monarch in the coming months. The fractious nation, ever-more divided by language, holds parliamentary elections in June 2014 amid calls for even more autonomy for the 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million French-speakers.

After the last elections in 2010, it took a record 541 days before a government could be formed amid much division about how more power should be streamed from the central state to profit the separate language groups.