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After he succeeded his brother Baudouin, he became embroiled in a major royal scandal when he had to acknowledge he'd had a daughter out of wedlock, throwing his marriage with Queen Paola into a major crisis.
The issue came to the fore again this spring when the daughter, Delphine Boel, opened court proceedings to prove Albert is her father.
"He is not alone. Many royals around the world have extramarital children. But there has been a change in the sense that this becomes much more public now," Reynebeau said.
Even Albert acknowledged on Wednesday that the public's sympathy had not been unconditional.
"We thank you for your trust, sympathy and support, even if it was sometimes laced with criticism," he said.
After the formal and stiff Baudouin, Albert did bring some earthy and easygoing charm to the royalty. Di Rupo said Albert won over people "thanks to enthusiasm, sense of humor and attitude."
Local resident Isabelle De Crayencour said she'd hoped he would stay on as long as possible.
"He kept our country standing for 20 years," she said. "So isn't it a bit 'Goodbye Belgium' now?"
It was no secret that the years were taking their toll on Albert. The king with a love of sleek motorcycles had become increasingly frail, sometimes relying on a walking stick.
Also, unease has grown about the lavish finances of the royal household. "Such things used to be accepted, but they no longer are. It eats away at his image," Reynebeau said.
So many said the time to leave was well-picked.
"He took a good decision," said student Jeremy Desfougeres. "He arrives at retirement like everyone. We young people are also going to retire one day, so I think it is good for him that he does that."