Belgium's King Albert II announces he will abdicate throne

Belgium's King Albert II, 79, announced on Wednesday that he will be abdicating the throne on July 21.

Belgium's King Albert II announced Wednesday that he will abdicate the throne and will be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Philippe, on July 21.

Albert, 79, gave a televised address to the nation on Wednesday after a frenzy of speculation that he would be stepping down in favor of his son, Philippe, 53. His abdication coincides with the nation's independence day celebration on July 21 for the kingdom of 10.5 million people. He is the first of the six monarchs in Belgium history to abdicate the throne.

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In his address, Albert said it was time to "pass on the torch to the next generation,'' and that Philippe was "well-prepared" to succeed him. He cited his health as his reason for stepping down.

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Albert is abdicating his largely ceremonial post just shy of what would have been his second decade on the throne in August. He became the sixth king in Belgium's history in August of 1993 after his brother, King Baudouin, died at 62. His abdication follows on the heels of a monarch to the north, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who stepped down after 33 years on April 30 and has been succeeded by her son, King Willem-Alexander.

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Reuters contributed to this report.