Queen Beatrix To Abdicate Dutch Throne

Dutch Queen Beatrix is to abdicate in April, clearing the way for her eldest son to become the country's first king in more than a century.

She made her announcement  that she was stepping down after 33 years as head of state on national television, confirming an end to the reign of one of Europe's longest-serving monarchs.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, 45, is in line to take her place after she leaves the throne on April 30.

The move had been widely expected, but the queen's announcement is expected to bring an outpouring of emotion from the Dutch, most of whom adore their queen and refer to her as "Bea".

"Responsibility for our country must now lie in the hands of a new generation," Beatrix said in the speech delivered from her Huis ten Bosch palace just days before she was to turn 75.

"I am deeply grateful for the great faith you have shown in me in the many years that I could be your Queen."

Beatrix's role has been largely ceremonial but she won many hearts by giving the monarchy a modern, hard-working image.

She is already the oldest ever Dutch monarch.

Observers believe she has stayed on the throne for so long partly out of an eagerness to hold the country together. Dutch society has seen years of unrest linked to immigration and a shifting away from its traditional reputation as one of the world's most tolerant nations.

In her Christmas Day speech in 2010, Beatrix made a heartfelt plea for unity, saying: "With each other we all make up one society."

Beatrix, who has said in the past that the best years of her life were as a mother before taking the throne in 1980, was also thought to be giving time for her son to enjoy fatherhood.

The future King Willem-Alexander has three young daughters with Argentine investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta.

The queen has been widely respected for her unpretentious style, but it took Beatrix much of her reign to attain the popularity of her late mother, Queen Juliana, who was more openly loving toward her people.

But in recent years, personal tragedies exposed a softer side to the queen and brought her closer to her sympathetic subjects.

Her German husband Claus died in 2002. In another blow, a deranged loner tried to slam a car into an open-topped bus carrying members of the royal family as they celebrated the Queen's Day national holiday in 2010, killing seven spectators.

Then, in 2012, her second son Prince Friso was engulfed by an avalanche as he skied, plunging him into a coma from which he has yet to wake.

Beatrix went back to her busy official schedule soon after the accident, but it again spurred speculation that she would step down.

The Netherlands celebrates the 200th anniversary of its monarchy, the House of Orange, at the end of this year.

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