Liechtenstein prince looks to step down

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VADUZ - In the principality of Liechtenstein, there is a hint of revolution in the air. There is little threat of an uprising, but the stately corridors of the monarch's mountainside castle may never be quite the same again.

The prime mover in the affair is the monarch himself: Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, Duke of Troppau and Jaegerndorf, Count of Rietberg and head of the House of Liechtenstein. The prince, 48, has for the first time invited the world to see the official house code (Hausgesetz), devised for its 100 or so members scattered throughout the world. The revised code makes tough reading for monarchists and feminists alike.

Prince Hans-Adam's new regulations formally accord his subjects the right to depose him, offering them the right to a no-confidence vote in his stewardship of the principality. He also wants the constitution changed so that his subjects can abolish the system of hereditary monarchy if they so wish.

He even harbours serious thoughts of early retirement, as he confessed in an interview, the timing of which coincided with publication of the new code. It seems that Crown Prince Alois, 25, may not have to wait until old age to take over. Asked when he might step down, Prince Hans-Adam said: 'That's a question that will probably pop up around the turn of the century. Early retirement could well be on the cards for me, provided of course that my son agrees.'

Liechtenstein, tucked on a bend of the Rhine between Austria and Switzerland, has been ruled by the House of Liechtenstein for 300 years. Speculation over the monarchy's future has been rife since last year, when Prince Hans-Adam clashed with the government over the timetable for a vote on European integration. After the row, the prince said he would step down if his people wanted him to, and offered a public debate on the role of the monarch within the constitution.

Earlier this year he offered Liechtensteiners the right to a referendum on abolition of the monarchy. Now he has set it all down in rules that officially establish freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Members of the family need no longer be Roman Catholic. But little appears to have changed for the House of Liechtenstein's female members, who have no right to vote on internal family matters. Prince Hans-Adam said: 'The women, too, voiced their opinions but also took the view that women should not have a say in family affairs.' Women, said the prince, should concentrate on bringing up the children. The chances that one day there might be a reigning princess of Liechtenstein appear to be slim indeed.

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