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Dutch Prepare for Royal Wedding


Lavish preparations are under way in Amsterdam as the Dutch capital gets ready for Saturday's royal wedding between Crown Prince Willem Alexander and his Argentine bride, Maxima Zorreguieta. Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the royal nuptials, while millions more are expected to watch the wedding of their future king on television.

On television, in the shops, on the streets, everywhere you turn in the Netherlands, there's talk - and signs - of the royal wedding. The 34-year-old heir to the Dutch throne, Prince Willem Alexander, will marry former investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta in a civil ceremony followed by a church service that's expected to be attended by about 1,700 guests. They include other European royals, like Britain's Prince Charles, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Noticeably absent from the guest list, though, are Maxima's parents. Her father Jorge, a wealthy rancher, served for two years as Argentina's minister of agriculture during the military regime of Jorge Videla. The notorious dictator ruled from 1976 to 1983 during Argentina's so-called Dirty War, when thousands of people disappeared.

Although Maxima's father says he didn't know anything about it and Maxima says she believes him, the Dutch say he had to have known about the abuses, even if he didn't participate in them. In typical Dutch style, a compromise was reached: Maxima denounced the Videla regime and said her father wouldn't attend the wedding.

While there will be some protesters out in the streets of Amsterdam during the nuptials, most of the country's 16 million people will be watching the wedding and celebrating. The blonde-haired lively Maxima is extremely popular here - more so than the future king, who's seen as a bit clumsy and lacking charisma. And the fact that she speaks fluent Dutch has endeared her to the nation.

The wedding will have all the pomp and ceremony of royal nuptials, including a 30 minute ride through the cobble-stoned, canal-lined streets of Amsterdam in the royal Golden Carriage. In recent days there has been an influx of all things orange - the royal color - and also police: some 6,000 will be patrolling the capital to make sure things go smoothly.

The 1966 wedding of the prince's mother, Queen Beatrix, was marred by violent street protests when she married a German diplomat just a couple of decades after World War II, when the Germans occupied the Netherlands. But despite the occasional controversy, the Dutch still love their royal family and the marriage of the Queen's oldest son is a reason for national celebrations.

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