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Prince Rainier Dead at 81

Prince Ranier
His royal palace has announced that Prince Rainier III of Monaco died, at the age of 81. The prince had been ailing for months and was most recently placed in intensive care at a hospital in Monaco for what the principality described as a bronchial and lung infection.

Prince Rainier, the head of Europe's longest-ruling royal family, was widely considered one of Monaco's most powerful and effective leaders. During his 56-year rule, he transformed the principality - tucked inside the French Riviera - from a small outcrop of rocky land into one of the world's most glamorous and moneyed capitals.

Author Frederic Laurent lives near Monaco and has written an extensive biography on Prince Rainier.

"Under Prince Rainier Monaco not only became a financial power, but expanded physically as well," he said. "The tiny principality managed to gain territory from the sea, through an expensive land-fill project."

Today, Monaco is home to some of the world's richest and most famous people - not only because of its location on the Mediterranean, but also because of its status as a tax haven. Over the years, the principality has become known for many other things: Its world famous Monte Carlo casino and ballet, its car racing - and the Grimaldi royal family who are regularly featured in popular magazines.

Mr. Laurent also says Prince Rainier will be remembered as the monarch who restored Monaco's sovereignty after years in which the principality was considered little more than a protectorate of France. He was also the first Monegasque prince to live full-time in the principality. He was very attached to Monaco, Mr. Laurent said, and to its development.

Monaco was a very different place when Prince Rainier was born in 1923. He was the only son of Princess Charlotte Louise Juliette - initially the illegitimate, Algerian-born daughter of Prince Louis II of Monaco. She was later made legitimate when the principality searched for an heir.

Prince Rainier studied in British academies and went to university in France. He fought the Nazis in World War II and won several medals for his courage. In 1949, he became Monaco's monarch with the death of his grandfather, Louis II. He ruled Monaco since then - sometimes with an iron hand.

Perhaps Prince Rainier is best remembered for his marriage to American movie actress Grace Kelly, in 1956. Princess Grace gave Monaco a new luster, and the rich and famous flocked to the Riviera paradise. She died in a car accident in 1982.

More recently, Monaco briefly ranked on a so-called gray list of money laundering states compiled by the Paris-base Financial Action Task Force.

And in 2000, French lawmakers criticized Monaco for tolerating financial improprieties - a charge the principality - and Prince Rainier - angrily denied.

But today, experts say Monaco has cleaned up its reputation. And analysts like Marco Incerti, a research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, believe the principality will survive in a larger European Union.

"People actually like to think there are these tiny places that still exist and are run in the same way they were run 700 or 1,000 years ago," he stated. "So it contributes to the European myth."

Mr. Incerti also believes principalities like Monaco and Liechtenstein will have to fall in line with European Union fiscal policies, even if they are not part of the EU

Prince Rainier is succeeded by three children: Princess Caroline, Princess Stephanie, and his heir, Prince Albert.

Mr. Incerti believes Prince Albert will make a good ruler.

"Unfortunately his father has been ill quite seriously over the last year. So he's had time to actually get into the power room and see how it works and get prepared for the job," added Mr. Incerti. "He has very good international connections which will help him continue to present Monaco as a nice place to be and a place where all the VIPs will like to go to at least once in their lifetime. So that will contribute to the wealth of Monaco."

Observers like Mr. Incerti also believe 47-year-old Prince Albert will be a less dictatorial ruler than his father, even as he continues his father's policies of developing the tiny and wealthy principality.