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Royal Father-Son Rift Adds To Belgium’s Leadership Woes

Belgium’s political parties have failed for nearly a year and a half to form a working government. Now its royal family is fueding as well. King Albert II gave his youngest son, Prince Laurent, a public slap on wrist this week by barring him from National

King Albert II of Belgium
King Albert II of Belgium
Stefanie Bolzen

These days, Belgium's king has plenty to worry about. For one thing, his country has been without a government for over 400 days. The Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons cannot agree on a coalition. And now Albert II, 77, has family troubles too. In an unprecedented move in the 181-year history of the Belgian royals: his youngest son, Prince Laurent, was excluded from this week's July 21 National Day festivities.

No military parade in front of the royal palace, no Te Deum in the cathedral for Laurent, 47, or his wife Claire. They won't be there. And, snipes the local press, they're not likely to be taking it in on TV either.

The big rift between father and son in the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha House of Belgium goes back a few months. When Laurent's eldest daughter Louise, 7, recently made her First Communion, King Albert -- according to the newspaper La Capitale – was present at the ceremony only to please his wife, Queen Paola. He didn't exchange a single word with Laurent.

The latest bone of contention was a trip Laurent took to Congo last March. The former Belgian colony was a source of vast riches for the kingdom from the late 19th century until after the Second World War. The human rights abuses perpetrated by Belgians against the Congolese during that period have yet to be properly researched, and for the time being the subject lies dormant.

The political situation in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in any case extremely tense. Elections are coming up this fall, Brussels, as a result, is walking on eggshells trying to keep its political distance from the African nation. Albert II asked Laurent, therefore, to cancel his trip several times. Prime Minister Yves Leterme also wrote him a letter. And before the date of his departure, there was even a crisis meeting. Laurent got on the plane to Kinshasa anyway. The trip had to do with reforestation projects -- nothing to do with politics, he said.

The word on Laurent is that he perceives himself as misunderstood. He's seeking to win the affection of a father who prefers his first-born son, Philipp, it is said.

As a child, Laurent ran away from the Jesuit boarding school he attended. Later, his love of fast cars earned him the nickname "Full Throttle." He was once stopped by police in Brussels for doing 137 km an hour in a 50 km zone.

The prince rubs many the wrong way. At the newspaper kiosk in the posh Brussels suburb of Tervuren, where he lives, people complain that he pushes past them instead of waiting his turn. Others look askance at the way he parks in the space reserved for the disabled at the British school that his three children attend.

Bigger woes

His exclusion from National Day festivities, which he described on Belgian TV as part of a "palace conspiracy" against him, might have prompted him to throw in the towel -- were it not for the 300,000 euro apanage he receives from state coffers every year for fulfilling his princely duties. As number 12 in line for the throne, Belgium would hardly fall apart without him.

The country is perfectly capable of doing that on its own. The situation has never before been this fraught, and the King's traditional speech reflected that. Belgium's cultural diversity once offered a model for all of Europe. But now the divided Flemish and Walloon camps "could put a spoke in the wheels of European construction, which has already been negatively impacted by Euroskeptics and populists," said the King, who, palace officials say, they have never seen so serious and wound up.

If Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever continues to refuse suggestions put forth by socialist Walloon Elio Di Rupo, members of all the other parties saw in far-reaching compromises made by Di Rupo earlier this month a possible way forward to creating a government.

Or nearly all parties: the sticking point is the Flemish Christian Democrat party, which has so far not taken a stance because it fears compromise could result in a major loss of votes in Flanders. The Christian Democrat party leader is Yves Leterme, who is also acting head of the government.

Read the original article in German

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

Picture of recently mobilized Russian troops

Recently mobilized Russian troops getting ready to depart for service

Cameron Manley

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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