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Belgian royals visit Switzerland

King Albert (right) was received with full military honours

(Keystone)

King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium have ended the first part of a two-day state visit to Switzerland. The royal couple were received by the Swiss cabinet in Bern. On Wednesday they are touring Bern and Lausanne.

On arrival in the country King Albert and his wife were given a reception with full military honours in Bern. They also met a delegation of Belgian expatriates living in Switzerland.

In his speech, King Albert pointed out the similarities between Switzerland and Belgium, and paid tribute to the two countries' close relations. He praised the Swiss government for its humanitarian efforts and for trying to open the country up to the outside world.

The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, said Belgium and Switzerland shared the same political and cultural values because both were multi-ethnic and multi-lingual.

On Tuesday night the royal couple dined at Interlaken's prestigious Hotel Victoria Jungfrau, in the Bernese Oberland.

On Wednesday, Ogi will take King Albert to the building site of a new railway tunnel through the Alps in the 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 International Olympic Committee Museum in Lausanne, and a meeting is scheduled in Geneva with the head of the Switzerland's SAirGroup, which is due to take over Belgium's national airline, Sabena.

On a political level, the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, met 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. Michel said he would call on the Belgian parliament to complete the ratification as soon as possible.

Joseph Deiss said that Switzerland recognised the complexities of Belgium's system, with its regional and federal parliamentary levels, but he hoped ratification would take place next year.

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.

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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