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Belgium's King Albert II abdicates in favour of son Philippe

People stand outside St Gudule Cathedral during a Te Deum mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of the reign of Belgium's King Albert II, the Belgian National Day, King Albert's abdication and the inauguration of his successor King Philippe in Brusse
People stand outside St Gudule Cathedral during a Te Deum mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of the reign of Belgium's King Albert II, the Belgian National Day, King Albert's abdication and the inauguration of his successor King Philippe in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's King Albert II (right) and Queen Paola (second from right) speak with well-wishers as they leave after a Te Deum mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of the reign of Belgium's King Albert II, the Belgian National Day, King Albert's abdicat
Belgium's King Albert II (right) and Queen Paola (second from right) speak with well-wishers as they leave after a Te Deum mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of the reign of Belgium's King Albert II, the Belgian National Day, King Albert's abdication and the inauguration of his successor King Philippe, at St Gudule Cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's Prince Philippe (centre) and his wife Princess Mathilde (second from right), wave to the crowd as they leave a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as '
Belgium's Prince Philippe (centre) and his wife Princess Mathilde (second from right), wave to the crowd as they leave a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's Prince Philippe (right) and his wife Princess Mathilde smile as they leave a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favo
Belgium's Prince Philippe (right) and his wife Princess Mathilde smile as they leave a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: AP
Royal family members (front from left) Queen Fabiola, Queen Paola, King Albert II, Prince Philippe and his wife Princess Mathilde attend a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday a
Royal family members (front from left) Queen Fabiola, Queen Paola, King Albert II, Prince Philippe and his wife Princess Mathilde attend a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: AP
Royal family members (front from left) Queen Fabiola, Queen Paola, King Albert II, Prince Philippe and his wife Princess Mathilde attend a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday a
Royal family members (front from left) Queen Fabiola, Queen Paola, King Albert II, Prince Philippe and his wife Princess Mathilde attend a church service at the St Gudule cathedral in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's Queen Paola (right) reacts as Crown Princess Mathilde (centre) and Queen Fabiola applaud while King Albert II signs an act of abdication during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Alb
Belgium's Queen Paola (right) reacts as Crown Princess Mathilde (centre) and Queen Fabiola applaud while King Albert II signs an act of abdication during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
King Albert II of Belgium delivers an abdication speech during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his s
King Albert II of Belgium delivers an abdication speech during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
King Albert II of Belgium delivers an abdication speech during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his s
King Albert II of Belgium delivers an abdication speech during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
King Albert II (centre) of Belgium, watched by his son Crown Prince Philippe (left) and Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo (right), signs an act of abdication during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday
King Albert II (centre) of Belgium, watched by his son Crown Prince Philippe (left) and Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo (right), signs an act of abdication during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe (left) hugs his father King Albert II during the King's abdication ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the
Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe (left) hugs his father King Albert II during the King's abdication ceremony at the Royal Palace on Belgian National Day in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium (left) and King Albert II of Belgium embrace during the signing of the abdication treaty on the occasion of Belgian National Day, at the Royal Palace in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday
Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium (left) and King Albert II of Belgium embrace during the signing of the abdication treaty on the occasion of Belgian National Day, at the Royal Palace in Brussels on Sunday, July 21, 2013. Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves. -- PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Albert II abdicated on Sunday after 20 years as 'King of the Belgians' in favour of his son Philippe, who becomes the seventh monarch of a country split between its French- and Flemish-speaking halves.

In a solemn ceremony at the royal palace, Albert signed the act of abdication in front of an audience of some 250 local dignitaries and political leaders, thanking them for working for the country and holding Belgium together.

Philippe will be sworn in as king at midday (6pm Singapore time) before parliament, with a day of pageantry and celebration attracting large crowds onto the streets outside the royal palace in central Brussels in brilliant sunny weather.

As Queen Paola held back tears, Albert said he simply wanted to tell her "thank you ... and a big kiss," a typically human touch for a man credited with the ability to reach out to people.

In a short address, he also said he wanted to pay "special homage" to Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo who had accepted the "heavy task of forming a government (in 2011)" when the country appeared rudderless after inconclusive polls the previous year.

Mr Di Rupo and his government had taken "the indispensable measures needed to promote the well-being of all," the king said, stressing the key achievement of keeping the country together.

Albert expressed too his full confidence in Philippe, saying "you have all the qualities needed to serve your country well.

"You and your dear wife Mathilde have all our confidence."

Born June 6, 1934, Albert was the second son of Leopold III and Queen Astrid but succeeded to the throne on August 9, 1993 after the unexpected death of his brother, King Baudouin, who was childless.

Earlier this month, he announced he would step down because age and ill-health prevented him from fulfilling his royal duties as he would like.