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Belgium installs its seventh king, Philippe I

Belgium’s new king, Philippe I, with his wife Queen Mathilde, took the oath as the country’s seventh monarch Sunday.
Belgium’s new king, Philippe I, with his wife Queen Mathilde, took the oath as the country’s seventh monarch Sunday.AFP Photo/Belga Photo/Chancellerie du Premier Ministre

BRUSSELS — Prince Philippe became Belgium’s seventh king during a national holiday on Sunday after his father, Albert II, abdicated as the head of this fractured nation.

Belgians shouted ‘‘Long live the king’’ Sunday to welcome their new monarch to the throne . But several legislators from northern Flanders boycotted the coronation, highlighting longstanding feuding between the nation’s Dutch-speaking Flemings and Francophones — the biggest challenge the new monarch will face.

In his first speech shortly after his father abdicated, King Philippe I made no attempt to paper over those cracks, instead casting the country’s division between its 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million Francophones as one of its strengths.


‘‘The wealth of our nation and our institutions consists in turning our diversity into a strength,’’ he said after taking his oath of office at the country’s Parliament.

Philippe, 53, has prepared for the monarchy as a leader of foreign trade delegations over the past two decades.

The ceremony capped a day of transition which started when Philippe’s father, the 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, who holds the political power in this 183-year-old parliamentary democracy.

While crowds of well-wishers cheered the royal family, one separatist group, the Flemish Interest party, boycotted the parliamentary ceremony, while the Legislature’s biggest party, the N-VA New Flemish Alliance, sent 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 alliance, which has become the main opposition party seeking Flemish independence.

It wants the new king not to have any role in coalition negotiations to form a new government and not sign any laws.

Associated Press