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Crowds cheer Dutch royal newlyweds

Prince Willem-Alexander and Maxima leave the royal palace on their way to perform their civil wedding ceremony
Prince Willem-Alexander and Maxima leave the royal palace on their way to perform their civil wedding ceremony  


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has married his Argentinian bride as thousands descended on Amsterdam to wish them well.

A select list of Europe's kings, queens, dukes and counts witnessed the 34-year-old Protestant heir to the Dutch throne exchanging vows with Maxima Zorreguieta, a 30-year-old Roman Catholic economist, in a civil ceremony.

Maxima wiped tears from her eyes after saying "Ja" to accepting the prince as her husband. The couple then signed the documents registering their marriage.

The newlyweds then repeated their vows in a ceremony at the 600-year-old Nieuwe Kerk next to the Royal Palace, officiated by a Dutch Reformed minister and a Catholic priest.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen warned the new Princess of the Netherlands that she would be "living in a glass house," adding that the couple must find a balance between private and public life.

An estimated 80,000 well-wishers cheered and waved Dutch flags as the couple arrived at the Beurs van Berlage, the disused trading exchange, where the civil ceremony took place.

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The city is awash with orange, the colour of the ruling House of Orange. Youngsters slept overnight in Dam Square in orange sleeping bags.

Among the royalty attending were at least four European monarchs -- King Albert II of Belgium, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, King Harald V of Norway and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden -- and Queen Noor, widow of Jordan's King Hussein, the palace said.

Britain's Prince Charles, Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco headed the list of royals representing their families and their nations.

Also present was Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Mette-Marit, whose marriage last August was the most recent congregation of European royalty.

The couple then made a half-hour ride through Amsterdam in the gilded carriage that once carried Willem-Alexander's great-grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, to her wedding a century ago.

The three-kilometre procession was led by 200 police and royal grenadiers on foot and on horseback, passing through hundreds of saluting soldiers and veterans.

About 1,000 protesters jeered as the carriage passed a square reserved for demonstrations.

Controversial consort

The bride's mother and father were expected to be among millions tuning in to watch the event live on television.

The Crown Prince's relationship sparked controversy last year when it emerged that Maxima's father had been a minister during the 1976-1983 Argentinean military dictatorship.

He bowed to Dutch objections and agreed to stay away from the wedding.

And there was bad news for Maxima, 30, when she heard would probably have to testify in a civil suit launched after she was involved in a car accident three months ago.

A man injured in the accident is claiming damages after his car was in collision with Maxima's in front of a royal palace outside The Hague. The case starts next month.

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Maxima studied the Dutch language, history and law to prepare for the wedding  

Queen Beatrix announced the engagement of her son in March last year in a rare televised address.

She described Maxima as "an intelligent, modern woman, courageous and faithful to all those who are dear to her."

The queen said she was "aware that a lot of people in our country understandably had feelings of doubt about their love" for Maxima.

"Those feelings were taken into careful consideration," she said.

Maxima sat near the queen during the television address. Then, speaking in flawless Dutch, she said, "I'm so happy that finally I can appear publicly with Alexander."

Willem Alexander, 34, is sticking to tradition by taking a foreign bride. Dutch royals have married Germans and Russians but never fellow nationals over the past two centuries.

Winter weddings are also customary. Dutch royals have often courted controversy with their consorts.

Public outrage greeted the marriage of Willem-Alexander's grandmother, Juliana, to German-born Bernhard as Nazism swelled in 1937.

The marriage of her daughter, Beatrix, in 1966 to German diplomat Claus von Amsberg, who fought for his country in World War II, was also criticised.

Public relations drive

This royal couple have, however, been attempting to improve their public image. An internet chat session with members of the public was arranged -- but failed, apparently sabotaged by hackers.

A huge party will be held at Amsterdam's Arena football stadium to mark the occasion.

Maxima, a former New York investment banker who met the Prince at a party in Seville, has acquired Dutch nationality and a sure command of the language. "I'm Latin and I'll remain Latin. I dance and I'll carry on dancing. I'll keep on singing," she told a television interviewer last week, giggling that when it came to dancing, the hips of her betrothed were "a bit stiff."

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Images of the couple adorn the streets of Amsterdam  

The Argentine, who studied economics, smiled her way through a gruelling tour of the Netherlands last year designed to make the public familiar with the new royalty.

The tour had her cycling through pouring rain, sitting in on Spanish lessons in a school and visiting a former World War II transit camp, homeless centres and street markets.

The national preoccupation with the royal relationship has silenced talk of refurbishing the Dutch monarchy, however. Queen Beatrix -- who succeeded Juliana in 1980 -- is closely involved in the formation of new governments.

She meets the prime minister weekly, studies and signs state documents and receives members of Parliament.

Agriculture Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst declared last April that the monarch should play no political role -- even though his daughter was just about to marry the queen's youngest son, Prince Constantijn. Beatrix's middle son, Prince Johan Friso, is a bachelor.

Sick of speculation over his sexuality, he took the unusual step last year of issuing a public statement to say he was not gay.



 
 
 
 


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