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The BBC's Colin Blane
"This is a wedding that has brought the feel good factor to Belgium"
 real 28k

Saturday, 4 December, 1999, 15:15 GMT
Royal wedding grips Belgium
Chants of "Mathilde, Mathilde" followed the civil ceremony

Belgians have been celebrating the wedding of Crown Prince Phillippe and his bride, Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, who is in line to become the first Belgian-born Queen in the country's history.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets from the royal palace to watch the wedding procession. Free travel had been laid on for the occasion.

The wedding vows - taken first in a civil ceremony in the famed gothic city hall - were met with cheers from well-wishers outside.

The whole of Belgium fell for your charms
Brussels mayor Francois-Xavier de Donnea to Mathilde
The service was conducted in all three national languages - French, Dutch and German. The couple went on to a Roman Catholic religious ceremony in the recently restored Cathedral St. Michel, attended by members of other European royal familes.

Prince Charles represented the British monarchy
The wedding will be capped with an evening reception at the Chateau de Laeken, residence of King Albert II and Italian-born Queen Paola.

Police said bitterly cold weather might explain why only about 50,000 spectators lined the route of the wedding procession, instead of the 200,000 who had been expected to descend on Brussels.

Railway officials said many people took advantage of the free service to take trips elsewhere in Belgium.

The student prince

There is a strong contrast between the two. Crown prince Phillipe, 39, had a reputation for being studious and unexciting. Mathilde D'Uudekem D'Acoz - 13 years his junior, is lively, poised and good-looking.

The match has proved extremely popular. Mathilde - a trained speech therapist - is also fluent in French and Flemish, and understands both sides of the country's linguistic and cultural divide.
Far from a royal wedding - Mathilde on holiday in Peru

Belgium's first royal wedding in 15 years appears to have captured the attention of the country's 10 million citizens, regardless of their linguistic allegiances.

"It's impossible to ignore, impossible to escape," said the newsreader on Belgium's French-speaking main television channel as he introduced 15-hours of television devoted to the wedding.

Country still divided

Historians and political analysts, however, said it would do little to heal the rift between Belgium's majority Flemish-speaking population in the north and the French speakers of the poorer south.

"It's window dressing," said Yvan Vanden Berghe, professor of contemporary history at Antwerp UIA university.

Political commentators said that even Mathilde's beauty and popularity could not conquer the separatist aspirations that have seen power devolved increasingly to regional governments in French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish-speaking Flanders.

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27 Oct 99 |  Europe
Belgium's royal sex scandal

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