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Prince Albert assumes the throne of glitzy Monaco

MONACO (AP) _ Prince Albert II of Monaco, a quiet and secretive bachelor, was proclaimed ruler of the glitzy Riviera enclave of Monaco Tuesday at a solemn Mass in a cliff-top cathedral where his father was buried three months ago after a 56-year reign.

Wearing a dark suit and sky blue tie, Albert knelt as a choir sang a traditional Monaco prayer asking God to protect the prince. For the first time, the white-robed singers invoked Albert's name instead of that of his father, Rainier III.

``We praise God for our new prince of Monaco, whom we receive ... as a gift,'' said the archbishop of Monaco, Monsignor Bernard Barsi, during his homily.

Organ music at the Mass set a solemn tone for ceremonies that were to end at night on a festive note, with fireworks and a ball under the stars.

Cries of ``Long live Prince Albert'' greeted the new ruler as he descended the cathedral's red-carpeted stairs, flanked by his sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie.

Albert, 47, automatically took royal powers upon the death of his father in April but did not formally embrace his role as His Serene Highness until Tuesday's daylong ceremonies.

The change was enormous for Monegasques, who grew up with Rainier who transformed this tiny Mediterranean outpost into a hub for high finance and a playground for the rich.

The prince is the only son of Rainier and actress Grace Kelly, who gave up Hollywood for the life of a princess before dying in a car crash in 1982.

A world traveler and bobsledder who took part in the last five Winter Olympics, Albert was long secretive about his personal life. He has been more forthcoming since his father's death in April.

On the day Monaco's official mourning period ended last week, Albert confirmed news reports that he fathered a child out of wedlock with an African-born flight attendant.

In another surprise Monday night, Albert told France's TF1 television that there may be other children waiting to step forward with paternity claims.

Asked to elaborate, he refused, saying only, ``We will answer when the moment comes.''

In publicly acknowledging he is the father of a nearly 2-year-old child, Alexandre, Albert said he wanted to face up to his responsibilities.

His son, Albert said, will want for nothing, though he will never take the throne and will not bear the name of the Grimaldis, who have ruled the principality for seven centuries.

Hundreds of Monegasques, decked out in fineries and elaborate hats, packed the white stone cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to pay homage to Albert. Some watched on a large screen outside, on a pine-capped hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

Albert ``is a modern prince,'' said pharmacist Marie-Paule Velay, wearing a pale yellow hat and gauzy shawl. ``He has acted honorably'' toward his child, she said, pointing out that Albert recognized the baby soon after his birth.

The prince, whose bachelorhood caused consternation to his father, has said he plans to marry one day _ but only when he is ready. A 2002 constitutional revision allows for powers to pass from Albert to his siblings and their children should he produce no heirs.

Tuesday was a national holiday in Monaco, with shops closed in this rocky Mediterranean enclave next to Nice, France.

At the close of the 75-minute service, the prince donned his sunglasses and walked with his sisters to the nearby palace for a garden party.

Christine Rousguisto, 79, who watched the ceremonies on a screen outside, reminisced about watching Albert grow up. Often portrayed as shy and retiring, Albert has the confidence of Monaco's citizenry, she said.

``Of course he's ready for this. He has everything to be a wonderful prince,'' Rousguisto said.

Albert has said he wants to clean up the image of Monaco _ frequently described as a sunny place for shady people _ during his reign. Monaco has come under fire for money laundering.

Albert's accession to the throne is a two-step event, with another ceremony expected to draw heads of state on Nov. 19.

International recognition of Albert's reign began arriving immediately Tuesday, with President Jacques Chirac of France inviting him to Paris in September.

``Your reign inaugurates the coming of new relations between our two countries,'' Chirac said.
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