PICTURES

King Albert, Queen Paola shed a tear on eve of abdication

Belgium's King Albert II signs the golden book of the townhall as and Queen Paola looks on while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divi
Belgium's King Albert II signs the golden book of the townhall as and Queen Paola looks on while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new king on Sunday he will try to prove this is still so. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's King Albert II (left) and Queen Paola listen to the national hymn at the townhall while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically div
Belgium's King Albert II (left) and Queen Paola listen to the national hymn at the townhall while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new king on Sunday he will try to prove this is still so. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's King Albert II greets people while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new
Belgium's King Albert II greets people while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new king on Sunday he will try to prove this is still so. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's King Albert II (left) greets people while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes
Belgium's King Albert II (left) greets people while visiting the city of Liege on July 19, 2013. The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new king on Sunday he will try to prove this is still so. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together.
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together. Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony, but the transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor gives Belgians yet another subject to disagree on. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together.
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together. Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony, but the transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor gives Belgians yet another subject to disagree on. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola wave to the crowd as they stand on the balcony of the City Hall in Liege, Belgium, during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola wave to the crowd as they stand on the balcony of the City Hall in Liege, Belgium, during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together. Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony, but the transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor gives Belgians yet another subject to disagree on. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola arrive in Liege, Belgium, for the last day of their 3-day farewell tour on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all toget
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola arrive in Liege, Belgium, for the last day of their 3-day farewell tour on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation ever more divided by language, it may be too much to ask for a royal to hold it all together. Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony, but the transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor gives Belgians yet another subject to disagree on. -- PHOTO: AP
Fans of the Belgian Royals wave Belgian flags and shout royalist slogans to the Belgian Royals during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying sy
Fans of the Belgian Royals wave Belgian flags and shout royalist slogans to the Belgian Royals during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying symbol of unity, Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony of transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying symbol of unity, Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands ove
Belgium's King Albert II greets the public during the last day of his 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying symbol of unity, Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony of transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor. -- PHOTO: AP
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola greet the public during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying symbol of unity, Belgian King Albert on
Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola greet the public during the last day of their 3-day farewell tour in Liege, Belgium, on Friday, July 19, 2013. In a fractious nation where even the monarchy is a fraying symbol of unity, Belgian King Albert on Sunday hands over the throne to his son Philippe in a day-long ceremony of transition from a trusted monarch to a disputed successor.  -- PHOTO: AP
King Albert II of Belgium and Queen Paola of Belgium wave during a visit of the Belgian Royal couple in Liege on July 19, 2013. Queen Paola shed a tear on Friday after twice offering Albert II a kiss as the royal couple took a farewell tour of Liege
King Albert II of Belgium and Queen Paola of Belgium wave during a visit of the Belgian Royal couple in Liege on July 19, 2013. Queen Paola shed a tear on Friday after twice offering Albert II a kiss as the royal couple took a farewell tour of Liege ahead of the king's weekend abdication. -- PHOTO: AFP

LIEGE, Belgium (AFP) - Belgium's Queen Paola shed a tear on Friday after twice offering Albert II a kiss as the royal couple took a farewell tour of Liege ahead of the king's weekend abdication.

Greeted by thousands of cries of "Long live the King" and "Long Live Belgium", the visit to the southern Belgian city was Albert's last in 20 years of a reign that comes to a close Sunday.

It was also highly symbolic as it was there that his parents - Leopold III and Swedish-born Queen Astrid - showed him off from the town hall balcony as the one-year-old baby Prince of Liege.

Albert, who remained prince until the sudden death of his brother Baudouin in 1993, is credited with having kept linguistically-divided Belgium united despite calls for an end to the monarchy from Dutch-speaking separatists in northern Flanders.

The 79-year-old, who said he was stepping down due to age and poor health, climbed the town hall steps slowly and once inside brushed away a tear too when shown footage of a 1959 trip to Liege with his legendary beautiful fiancee, Paola.

Some 6,000 to 8,000 Belgians turned out in the streets to say good-bye.