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Belgian King appeals for unity in farewell speech

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July 20, 2013 08:03 AM EST | AP


BRUSSELS — King Albert has used his farewell speech on the eve of his abdication to call for unity in the linguistically divided nation and said it is of `'essential importance" to stick together to maintain Belgium's high standard of living.

In Saturday's speech, the 79-year-old monarch lauded the compromises that have kept Belgium from succumbing to the forces of separatism, despite an increasing split between the 6 million Dutch-speaking Fleming in the north and 4.5 million French-speakers in the south. During his 20-year reign he has worked hard to narrow this gulf.

When his son Philippe takes over the throne during ceremonies on Sunday, he will almost immediately come face to face with a protracted 2014 election campaign centering on even further division of the two main language groups.