BRUSSELS – Belgians shouted “Long live the king” Sunday to welcome their new monarch to the throne on a sunny national holiday. But several legislators from northern Flanders boycotted King Philippe I’s coronation, highlighting longstanding feuds between the nation’s Dutch-speaking Flemings and Francophones, the biggest challenge the monarch faces.
In his first speech as king shortly after his father King Albert II abdicated, Philippe 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.
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.
Less than two hours later, the nation got its seventh king when Philippe, 53, pledged to abide by Belgium’s laws and constitution.
Big crowds of royalists and well-wishers cheered the royal family’s every move Sunday.
“We have lived through a beautiful day,” Philippe said. “Let’s be proud of our beautiful country.”