Dutch praise 'icon' Beatrix after abdication announcement

THE HAGUE - The Dutch paid homage to Queen Beatrix on Tuesday, describing her abdication as the end of an era and tempering reservations over her crown prince successor with joy at having his Argentinian-born wife as queen.

"It's the end of an era after more than 30 years. She has been a good queen," Paul Hofstra, 62, told AFP as he walked past the queen's "working palace" at Noordeinde in The Hague's city centre.

"She is and was a Dutch icon, representing Oranje (the House of Orange) wherever she went," added Irene Kruyer, 54, who travelled from Rotterdam with her cousin Sabine, 21, to get a glimpse of the palace.

Almost half of the Netherland's 16.5 million residents watched or listened in on Monday night as Beatrix unexpectedly announced her abdication after 33 years on the throne in favour of her son Willem Alexander.

The queen, who is to turn 75 on Thursday, said her birthday and the 200-year anniversary of the monarchy in 2013 were her motivations for stepping down.

But it was business as usual early Tuesday, with local and foreign television news crews far outnumbering wellwishers at the gates to the queen's official residence just outside The Hague.

"I'm not a queen-minded person at all, but yes, she was a wonderful queen, a good queen for the people," pensioner Leo van der Horst, 65, said as he jogged past the row of television crews.

"She deserves a rest now, handing over to Willem Alexander," he added, referring to the Prince of Orange who on April 30 is to become king, the Netherlands' first male monarch in more than a century.

"She commands a huge amount of respect," added Cora van der Loos, 61. "She was a hard-working queen. Usually one retires at 66, she's 75, so that's nine years of extra work," she said.

But in a country known for its pragmatic views, many Dutch still have reservations about whether Willem Alexander will be able to fill his mother's regal shoes.

Now 45, Willem Alexander has worked hard over the last 15 years to shake his image as a beer-guzzling partying youngster and transform himself into a family man seen as a worthy heir to the throne.

His vivacious Argentinian wife, Princess Maxima, who will become queen, has also won many Dutch hearts and minds with her efforts to learn the language and her keen interest in the country's people.

"He's a nice guy, I hope he will be as wonderful as his mother," said Van der Horst about Willem Alexander. "But I don't know."

"He's got a wonderful wife though. Everybody loves her," he added.

Willem Alexander will become the first Dutch king since Willem III, who reigned until his death in 1890.

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