Albert II of Belgium
Belgium's King Albert II gives a televised address to the nation July 3, 2013. Belgium's King Albert says he will abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Philippe on July 21, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Lalmand/Pool

The king of Belgium, Albert II, annouced his abdication Wednesday. The 79-year old monarch, who ascended to the throne in 1993, said he will step down on July 21 in favor of his son, 53-year old Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant.

In a statement to the nation quoted by the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique, Albert said he would “pass the torch to the following generation,” citing his age and health, which do not allow him to perform his duties as consitutional monarch. Prince Philippe is “well prepared” to succeed him, Albert said.

The abdication has been confirmed by several sources “at the highest level of the state,” La Libre Belgique said. Rumors had been circulating recently about the king’s possible abdication.

The monarch has been embroiled in a controversy involving a possible lawsuit by a Belgian artist, Delphine Boel, who claims she is the offspring of an affair Albert had while he was crown prince in the 1960s.

Albert II became king of the 11 million Belgians when his childless brother Baudouin died. He is married to Queen Paola, an Italian-born princess born Paola Ruffo di Calabria. A member of the royal house of Belgium, formerly known as the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, he is related to many other members of European royalty, including King Harald V of Norway, who is his first cousin.