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Albert takes Monaco throne

Pomp and ceremony mark the prince's assumption of power

Prince Albert II of Monaco and his sister Princess Caroline of Hanover are seen at the Monaco Palace where he assumed Monaco's throne.
Prince Albert II of Monaco and his sister Princess Caroline of Hanover are seen at the Monaco Palace where he assumed Monaco's throne.
Lionel Cironneau, Associated Press

MONACO — A solemn Prince Albert II formally ascended to Monaco's throne Saturday in ceremonies that mixed royal pomp with an emotional remembrance for his late father, Rainier III.

The festivities started with a Mass in the cliff-top cathedral where Rainier married Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly in 1956 and where he was buried beside her in April when he died at age 81, ending a 56-year reign.

Wearing a royal ceremonial military uniform, Albert blinked back tears after kneeling to receive a blessing at the end of the Mass, which was led by the archbishop of Monaco, Monsignor Bernard Barsi. His sisters, Caroline and Stephanie, sat beside him and cried.

"By rising to the Grimaldi throne, Prince Albert finds his place in the continuity of this dynasty and with the help of God, carries forward the destiny of the principality dating more than seven centuries," Barsi said between strains of organ music and Handel's "Messiah."

Nearby, hundreds of residents of the Riviera principality watched the ceremony on a giant screen outside the palace. Many waved Monaco's red-and-white national flag.

"It is important to be here today," said Georges Testa, 32. "We have to show the prince that the whole country, everyone is behind him. We are all here to tell him we support him, that we love him."

Albert automatically took royal powers upon his father's death and was appointed His Serene Highness in July in the first of a two-part investiture ceremony.

Saturday's schedule of events also included an afternoon soccer match attended by the prince, a gala night at the opera and fireworks over Monte Carlo. They coincided with Monaco's national day and were intended as Albert's formal introduction to foreign dignitaries, royalty and some 800 invited guests.

Among those who attended were Britain's Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex; Prince Joachim of Denmark; Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco; and Prince Faisal of Jordan. Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was the only head of state to make the trip.

After the religious ceremony, Albert presided for the first time over Monaco's national day military review outside the royal palace.

Standing at attention, Albert was presented with a royal standard — or banner — bearing his emblem, while Rainier's standard was presented to the royal guard one last time and marched inside the palace gates.

Rainier was credited with transforming the principality from a sleepy seaside resort into a center of finance and tourism. It was Rainier's 1956 wedding to the Oscar-winning Kelly that endowed tiny Monaco with its glamorous image.

The principality is smaller than New York's Central Park.

Albert, long secretive about his personal life, has spoken openly about having fathered a child out of wedlock with a former flight attendant from Togo — a mini-scandal that first surfaced on the cover of a French magazine shortly after his father's death. The child will never take the throne and will not bear the Grimaldi name.