Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima wave to the crowd with their daughters Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia (L), Princess Alexia (R) and Princess Ariane (C) on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam April 30, 2013. Photo by Paul Vreeker, Reuters
AMSTERDAM - Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated on Tuesday, handing over to her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who became the first King of the Netherlands in over 120 years.
An estimated 25,000 well-wishers cheered outside the Royal Palace in Amsterdam as the abdication and automatic succession were broadcast live.
The crowds had gathered in Dam Square from early on Tuesday to see the new King and his wife, Queen Maxima, as they stepped out onto the balcony of the Royal Palace. Beatrix blinked back tears as she presented her son.
"Some moments ago I abdicated from the throne. I am happy and thankful to present to you your new king," said Beatrix, 75, who now takes the title of princess.
Wearing a sober purple dress, Beatrix signed the abdication document in front of the Dutch cabinet, Willem-Alexander and Maxima, who wore a pale rose-coloured dress with a shimmery skirt and enormous bow on her left shoulder.
Willem-Alexander, a 46-year-old water management specialist, is expected to bring a less formal touch to the monarchy together with Maxima, a former investment banker from Argentina.
Beatrix chose to retire after 33 years in the role, following in the tradition of her mother and grandmother.
April 30, or Queen's day, is always a day for partying in the Netherlands, and this year's investiture has provided another excuse to celebrate at a time when plummeting house prices, rising unemployment and slumping consumer confidence have pushed the country into recession.
Amsterdam has been awash with orange, the royal colour, for days. Houses were covered in bunting and flags and shop windows were stuffed with orange cakes, sweets, clothes and flowers.
Many people took Monday off work and started celebrating in earnest from Monday evening. Nearly a million people were expected to join the street party with dancing to bands and DJs, helping create a carnival atmosphere.
"He (Willem-Alexander) knows what is needed. He unites people. He has made it possible for the different generations to mingle more," said 40-year-old Margriet Dantuma, dressed in an orange skirt, as she joined others on the Amsterdam pavements putting out impromptu stalls of bric-a-brac for sale.
The royals are broadly popular, with 78 percent of Dutch in favour of the monarchy up from 74 percent a year ago, according to an Ipsos poll.
But they have been stripped of their political influence, and no longer appoint the mediator who conducts exploratory talks when forming government coalitions.
RARE TRIP BY JAPAN'S PRINCESS
Britain's Prince Charles and Japan's Crown Princess Masako, who is making her first foreign trip since falling ill a decade ago, will be among 2,000 visitors at the official investiture ceremony on Tuesday afternoon.
The royal family will head from the palace to the 600-year-old Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, next door in the afternoon where the king will swear an oath to uphold the Dutch constitution before lawmakers.
The Dutch monarch is never crowned, since, in the absence of a state church, there is no cleric available to carry out the coronation. But there is a crown, which will sit on a table next to him throughout the ceremony, along with other regalia that constitute the crown jewels.
Willem-Alexander will wear a royal mantle that has been used for investitures since 1815, although it has been repaired and altered at least twice over the past century, for the investitures of his mother and grandmother.
Celebrations are expected to continue through the evening with a water pageant along the IJ, Amsterdam's historic waterfront.
At a time of austerity and billions of euros of budget cuts, the government promised to keep the cost of the pageantry down.
This week's ceremonies will cost about 12 million euros, but that excludes the bill for the extensive security measures. (Additional reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)