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Willem-Alexander, from Prince Pils to Dutch king

  • Article by: MIKE CORDER
  • Associated Press
  • April 28, 2013 - 1:20 AM

AMSTERDAM - He's evolved from a beer-loving student dubbed Prince Pils to an International Olympic Committee member and respected U.N. water expert. Now comes the ultimate transformation for Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander: He's about to become king.

Queen Beatrix's handover to her son after a 33-year reign has triggered a frenzy of orange-tinted patriotism and pride across the Netherlands, while also reigniting a debate about the monarchy's role in this egalitarian society. Willem-Alexander has been groomed for the monarchy all his life, but he has also carved out a busy career, parts of which he will now have to give up in favor of his largely ceremonial job as head of state.

In an interview aired earlier this month, Willem-Alexander, a father of three daughters who turned 46 on Saturday, seemed to have no regrets about leaving behind his old life and insisted — with a touch of good humor — that being king is a job with substance.

"Because even what is sometimes sarcastically called ribbon-cutting can be meaningful," he said.

The Netherlands' small republican movement says it will protest on Tuesday in Amsterdam and is hoping Willem-Alexander's investiture will be the country's last.

"We will have to await political developments — there is draft legislation to get him out of the government — then there is not much left apart from cutting ribbons and the question is whether his daughter will want to do that in 20 years," said Anjo Clement of the New Republican Society. "We don't think so. We think he will be the last Dutch king."

While the Dutch monarch formally is part of the country's government, his or her powers are limited. Until the last elections, Queen Beatrix helped in forming new governments after the vote by appointing an adviser to steer coalition-building negotiations. Lawmakers have now taken away that power.

"It looks like the political role the monarchy plays is more likely to decrease than to increase," said Henk de Velde, a professor of Dutch history at Leiden University.

Willem-Alexander will become king the moment his mother signs abdication papers Tuesday morning in the ornate Moses Hall of the Royal Palace on the Dam, the central square in downtown Amsterdam.

That will be followed by an investiture ceremony at the 15th-century New Church next door to the palace. There, Willem-Alexander will swear allegiance to the Dutch constitution and people in a ceremony attended by both houses of Dutch Parliament, as well as guests including royalty from around the world and commoners from across the Netherlands.

Thousands of orange-clad subjects — the Dutch royal dynasty is the House of Orange-Nassau — will cram into the square in front of the palace to cheer their departing queen and the new king as part of a day-long celebration across this country of nearly 17 million.

One notable absence will be among the family of Willem-Alexander's popular Argentine-born wife, Princess Maxima — who will soon be queen. Her father, Jorge Zorreguieta, was an agriculture minister in the military junta that ruled Argentina with an iron fist in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

His past in the brutal regime meant that he also was not invited to Willem-Alexander and Maxima's 2002 wedding.

"It was clear that if my father could not come for the wedding then it was very clear: This is a constitutional celebration so my father doesn't belong there," Maxima said in a recent interview.

Around a million people will be on the streets of Amsterdam, sparking a huge crowd control operation involving some 10,000 police and other security services. The air space over the city will be closed on the day.

The last time the Netherlands got a new monarch, when Beatrix ascended the throne in 1980, demonstrators protesting chronic housing shortages fought pitched battles with riot police through the city's historic center.

Willem-Alexander's investiture also comes four years to the day after an unemployed recluse, Karst Tates, tried to slam his car into an open-topped bus carrying members of the royal family during the annual Queen's Day national holiday.

Tates killed himself and seven bystanders and left members of the House of Orange gasping in horror as they watched the attack, before being whisked away from the scene.

Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan — himself a republican — said security will be tight, but should not intrude too much on festivities on the streets and canals of the Dutch capital.

"You have to accept certain risks," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Because otherwise people will think of this city: `What's going on here? This isn't my city anymore. This is a city for dignitaries only.'"

Organizers have promised to keep a lid on the costs, given the troubled economic climate in the Netherlands. Unemployment has been climbing rapidly in recent months as the trading nation continues to be buffeted by the European economic crisis.

Willem-Alexander will be the first Dutch king since Willem III died in 1890. He follows on from three queens, Beatrix, Juliana and Wilhelmina, whose reigns spanned the entire 20th century.

The new monarch says he plans to build on tradition while looking to the future.

"I want to be a traditional king first and foremost, building on the tradition of my predecessors standing for continuity and stability in this country," he said. "But also a 21st-century king who can unite, represent and encourage society."

That's exactly what many of his subjects want, too.

"We can't reinvent the monarchy. I think it's a good institution," said 25-year-old Amsterdam student Marleen Maat. "Politics is so unstable that it is good to have a central, uniting person and that can be our head of state."

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Associated Press writer Toby Sterling and video journalist Alex Furtula contributed to this story.

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