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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March, 2005, 23:05 GMT
Monaco anxious over prince's health
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Monaco

The mood in Monaco is sombre and subdued.

Even the skies over the tiny principality are grey and leaden, as people pray for the health of Prince Rainier, who has ruled here since 1949.

Prince Rainier with Price Albert and Princess Caroline
Prince Rainier pictured recently with two of his children

The latest bulletin from the palace described his condition as "worrying", more than two weeks after he was first admitted to hospital suffering from a chest infection.

The 81-year-old prince is immensely popular with his people.

His fairytale wedding to Hollywood star Grace Kelly gave this small tax haven for the Riviera's ultra-rich an added touch of fairytale glamour - putting it firmly on the international map.

His fortitude when Princess Grace was killed in a car accident in 1982 only won him more respect in Monaco.

He was also admired for his dignity when his two sometimes wayward daughters became the focus of worldwide tabloid attention.

It feels as though a part of my own family is dying
Monaco bookseller

The young Princess Caroline married her first husband, an older Parisian man with a reputation as a playboy, and his younger daughter Stephanie formed relationships with her bodyguards, later marrying a trapeze artist and bearing one child out of wedlock.

"It feels as though a part of my own family is dying," says Mireille, who runs a bookshop near the harbour. Rows of yachts jostle for space, dominated by one as large as a floating hotel - complete with its own helicopter and landing pad.

"Prince Rainier is such a good man, and while we like his son Albert, we love him."

'Naughty prince'

Mireille says she and many others among the principality's 32,000 residents are already preparing for the worst after palace spokesman Armand Deus issued a statement.

It said the condition of Prince Rainier's heart, lungs and kidneys left little grounds for optimism about the state of his health.

Prince Rainier defended Monaco from French bids to reclaim it

"He's a very naughty prince," one British long-term resident of Monaco told me, as she walked her dog near the palace gates.

"He simply wouldn't stop smoking, even though the doctors told him it was bad for his heart."

She agrees that the prince would be sorely missed, but says that few here hold out much hope that he can recover from his current illness.

Many are praying for him and lighting candles at the churches dotted across the principality.

Defending the realm

Monaco has changed much under the reign of the world's second-longest serving monarch (only the Thai king has been on the throne for longer).

Prince Rainier defended it - at times vigorously, but always with consummate diplomacy - from French attempts to re-assert its claim to this rocky strip of land on the Riviera.

He also did much to try to rid it of its reputation as a "sunny place for shady people", though many residents admit to being attracted by the lack of income tax.

Easter weekend is always a big money-spinner as gamblers and holiday-makers come to enjoy the restaurants, spas and the casino.

But there is little sense of celebration this Easter for the Monegasques, as Monaco's people are known.

Even as they walk past the harbour, many raise their eyes to the sandstone palace on the hill above to check if the red and white flag is still flying - to make sure that their prince is still with them.

How Rainier made Monaco a fairytale principality

Timeline: Monaco
09 Feb 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Monaco
09 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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