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Row over Belgian prince's degree

Belgium's Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, with baby daughter Elisabeth  

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The decision by Belgium's oldest university to grant an honorary doctorate to the country's crown prince has sparked protests by students and staff.

Several dozen staff at the Catholic University of Leuven criticised the award, calling it a "political and ideological choice."

An open letter signed by staff opposed to the award said: "It is not because of the personal merits of the crown prince that he is getting an honorary doctorate. He will get it because he is, by coincidence, heir to the throne."

But the head of the Dutch-speaking university, Professor Andre Oosterlinck, defended the decision.

"A king is neutral by definition," he told the university's student newspaper. "We wanted to honour the institution of the monarchy."

The citation praises Philippe, whose wife Princess Mathilde gave birth to their first child last year, for supporting the role of the family, as well as for promoting "world peace" and understanding between Belgium's Dutch and French-speakers.

Those to have received honorary doctorates in the past include 41-year-old Philippe's father, King Albert II.

Several student organisations plan protests during Monday's ceremony at Leuven, the Flemish town known as Louvain in French. Founded in 1425, it is one of the world's oldest universities.

Others to receive honorary degrees on Monday include the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.


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