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Libmonster ID: BE-30
Author(s) of the publication: Maria Fyodorova and Yulia Andreyeva
Source: TASS, 02-21-98

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King Albert II of Belgium, his wife, Paola, and Crown Prince Philippe ended their three-day state visit to Russia on Saturday and flew home from St. Petersburg's Pulkovo airport.

During the stay, the king, his wife and son laid a wreath at the War Memorial commemorating the city's defenders during the 900-day siege in 1941-1944.

The guests paused at a display box featuring personal belongings of the war-time residents and a 125-gramme piece of bread which was often the only food people could get in those days.

They watched a documentary depicting life in the city under siege and expressed admiration for the courage of women who had replaced their husbands sent to the front.

The king asked many questions about the famous Road of Life that passed across the frozen Lake Ladoga which provided the only link between the city and the rest of the country.

The king, the queen and the crown prince signed the book of guests of honour.

His head bare under the drizzling rain, the king proceeded to the war memorial called "The Siege" accompanied by St. Petersburg governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Vice-Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak. They laid bouquets of pink carnations to the memorial.

After the tour, the king confessed that he and members of his family have been deeply touched by what they saw. He said this is his second opportunity to learn about the siege of Leningrad as the city was called at that time. During his first visit in the 1970's, the king toured the city's Piskaryovskoye memorial cemetery.

From the monument, the guests headed for the government's residence on Kamenny Island for talks with Yakovlev to discuss the development and expansion of humanitarian and cultural relations between Belgium and St. Petersburg.

"We often hear that the heart of Europe beats in Brussels. It is true. But as we head for the third millennium, Europe is expanding. It would be right to speak not only of a greater Europe, but also of a greater Euro-Asian community which will most certainly appear in the beginning of the next century," Yakovlev said.

He stressed that "St. Petersburg is prepared to become Brussels' partner and facilitate all forms of cooperation between Europe and Asia."

The governor said that the turn of the millennium has been marked by three landmark events for St. Petersburg: the 100th anniversary of the Russian Museum, the world's largest deposit of Russian art, to be celebrated in 1998; the 200th birth anniversary of Russia's outstanding poet Alexander Pushkin to be celebrated in 1999; and the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg to be celebrated in 2003.

Yakovlev invited the royal family, art workers and "all supporters of the development of relations between Russia and Belgium" to participate in these events.

He asked the high guest to consider organising a cultural programme, Pushkin or St. Petersburg, in Brussels next year.

The king said he was happy to visit St. Petersburg and expressed the hope that he will be able to see its major landmarks.

Speaking about relations between his country and St. Petersburg, he said that many Belgian companies and individuals have established relationships with the city and wished their cooperation success and prosperity.

After the talks, the governor and his wife took the Belgian guests to the Hermitage which has about three million invaluable pieces of art and history.

They enjoyed Flanders paintings of the 17th century, a collection of impressionist works and an exhibition of the 17th- 18th century British art, as well as the main halls of the Winter Palace.

The king, his wife and son also visited the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, the burial place of all Russian emperors.

The king inquired where the remains of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his family found in Yekaterinburg, Urals, would be buried. Museum director Boris Arakcheyev told the king that the final decision has yet to be made by President Boris Yeltsin. If St. Petersburg is chosen, they will be buried in the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, he added.

The king said it was a "terrific" visit. He was given an art album about St. Petersburg in French and a crystal egg decorated with a gold emblem of Russia made by Faberge school jewellers.

Vice-Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, who accompanied the royal family on the trip, said the king's visit at the invitation of the Russian president has become "an important event for our country."

He said "earlier agreements were confirmed" during the visit. There are no political disagreements between the two countries, the vice-premier said, adding that the issues discussed during the talks "concerned mainly the development of trade and economic cooperation, taking into account Belgium's geopolitical and economic status."

"No special documents were signed because we have enough framework agreements and arrangements which allow us to conduct trade and economic activities," Bulgak said.



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Belgian royal family ends three-day state visit to Russia

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