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Dutch queen to continue tradition, abdicate

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 9:16 p.m.

THE HAGUE — The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix announced on Monday that she is ending her reign after 33 years and passing the crown to her eldest son, who has long been groomed to be king but who will have to work hard to match his mother's popularity.

“Responsibility for our country must now lie in the hands of a new generation,” Beatrix, one of Europe's longest-serving monarchs, said in a televised speech.

Under Dutch law, the monarch has few powers, and the role is considered ceremonial, but Beatrix acted as glue that held together an increasingly divided society, observers say.

Dutch queens have made a tradition of stepping aside for the next generation during the past century. Sources close to the royal family said Beatrix did not want to go until she felt her son was ready and his children were old enough. She wanted to ensure that anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, of whom she disapproved, was in no danger of assuming real political influence.

She alluded in speeches to the need for tolerance and multiculturalism, comments that were seen as criticisms of Wilders' anti-Islamic views.

Wilders' poor showing in the last election and loss of influence in politics could well have contributed to her decision to abdicate.

The queen, who turns 75 in a few days, said she will step down from the throne on April 30. That same day, her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, will be appointed king, the country's first since Willem III died in 1890.

Willem-Alexander is a 45-year-old father of three young daughters, an International Olympic Committee member, a pilot and a water management expert who has had trouble shaking off his image as a beer-drinking fraternity boy whose blunt comments upset the press and politicians and did not fit the image of the Netherlands' low-key “bicycling monarchy.”

With Willem-Alexander on the throne, the Netherlands is likely to revive the debate about the role of the monarchy and the high cost of maintaining the royal household, particularly when ordinary Dutch people are having to deal with austerity measures.

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