Hospitalised Prince Laurent of Belgium 'improving' says mother

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The condition of Prince Laurent of Belgium, the wayward younger brother of King Philippe who has been in a medically induced coma since mid-March, is improving, his mother said Thursday.

The 50-year-old prince, 11th in line to the throne, was rushed to hospital on March 18 suffering from pneumonia and, according to Belgian press reports, a serious bout of depression.

Calling Laurent her "most vulnerable" child, Queen Paola said in a statement he was no longer in a coma and that she offered him "all her affection".

In a rare break from royal protocol, Paola released her statement independently of the royal press office, now controlled by King Philippe, her oldest son, who took the throne after the abdication of Albert II last year.

Royal observers in the Belgian press said Paola took the unusual step fearing Laurent was being ignored by Philippe and his wife, Queen Mathilde.

Fined several times for speeding and chided for fraternising with African leaders without the government's consent, Laurent has long been considered the "enfant terrible" of the Belgian royal family.

The prince made headlines last year when he was hospitalised with internal injuries after falling while skiing in Austria.

But he is also seen as a likeable figure, if something of an oddball, as an animal lover who recently confessed he wished he could "converse with an octopus or a fly".

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