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Belgian royals visit Switzerland

King Albert and Queen Paola are being received by the Swiss cabinet

(Keystone Archive)

King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium are paying a two-day state visit to Switzerland. The royal couple were received by the Swiss cabinet in Bern, before embarking on a tour through the mainly French-speaking part of the country.

King Albert and his wife are were given a reception with full military honours in Bern. They will also meet a delegation of Belgian expatriates living in Switzerland.

On Wednesday, the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, will accompany King Albert on a visit to a building site for a new railway tunnel through the Alps in the Bernese Oberland.

Queen Paola will pay a visit to a library in Bern as well as Switzerland's largest prison for female convicts, outside the capital.

The couple are also expected to visit the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, and a meeting is scheduled in Geneva with the head of the Switzerland's SAir Group, which is due to take over Belgium's national airline, Sabena.

On a political level, the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is meeting his Belgian counterpart, Louis Michel, for talks on a number of issues, including European integration.

Belgium has still to ratify a series of bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union.

King Albert was partly raised in Switzerland. He and his family spent the years after the Second World War near Geneva. His mother, Queen Astrid, died in a road accident in Switzerland in 1935.

King Albert came to the throne in 1993, and enjoys wide popularity in Belgium. He has a reputation for being outspoken and having a moderating influence on political and social issues.

The visit by Belgium's royal couple is the second state visit to Switzerland this year. The German president, Johannes Rau, came to Switzerland in May.

swissinfo with agencies

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