AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Netherlands celebrated the 56th birthday of King Willem-Alexander on Thursday with street markets, parties and orange-glazed pastries, even as an annual poll showed support for the monarchy continuing to decline.
The king and much of his family spent part of the day in Rotterdam, where thousands of orange-clad people lined the streets to greet the royals during a walkabout. Willem-Alexander, who took the throne in 2013, is a descendant of the House of Orange dynasty.
In Amsterdam, the municipality called on revelers to stay away from one popular neighborhood near the city’s historic canal network because it was overcrowded by the late afternoon. Parts of the canal network also were crammed with boats.
Supporters of a national republican organization staged a small demonstration, holding up signs reading “Willem The Last.” The organization complained about the cost of king’s walkabout and said in a statement on its website that it sees the monarchy as “a symbol of inequality.”
An annual poll conducted for national broadcaster NOS by Ipsos ahead of the King’s Day national holiday showed support for the monarch continuing to fall after it plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the king angered many by taking a vacation in Greece during a nationwide lockdown.
Ten years after Willem-Alexander ascended to the throne, support for the House of Orange has dropped to 55%, while backing for the Netherlands becoming a republic rose in the same period from 15% to 24%. Support for the monarchy stood at 74% before the coronavirus pandemic.
Undeterred, the king said he would continue to work to unify the country.
He told NOS he sees his role as “uniting people and in this society, which unfortunately is polarizing and dividing, where there are really big problems. I can really play a very good connecting role.”
Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said he understood complaints about the cost of the walkabout but planned to host another major celebration if, as expected, the city’s biggest soccer club Feyenoord wins the national league title. “I don’t hear anybody complaining about that,” the mayor told NOS.
Despite the small protests, cheers greeted the king, his wife, Queen Maxima, and two of their three daughters as the royal family toured the port city, including crossing the River Maas in a fleet of water taxi motorboats.
Among many selfies, handshakes and brief meetings along the route, the king spoke to activists who asked him when he would apologize for the royal house’s historic role in slavery. Willem-Alexander said he was awaiting the results of an independent inquiry into the royal house’s role.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last year issued a formal apology for the country’s involvement in the slave trade.
Security was extra tight for Thursday’s tour. The royal family revealed last year that the 19-year-old heir to the throne, Princess Amalia, was forced to leave her student housing in Amsterdam due to threats.
Away from the official celebrations, children and their parents set up “free markets” throughout the country to sell their old toys, books and clothes. Amsterdam’s central Vondel Park was packed with families buying, selling and playing games.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.
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