Belgium's King Albert II on Wednesday announced his abdication in favor of his son, Crown Prince Philippe.

"After reigning 20 years, I feel that the time has come to pass the torch to the next generation," said the king in a televised address.

Albert II emphasized that his 53-year-old son is well prepared to succeed him, and he said he will step down on July 21, Belgium's national day.

The king cited his age and health as the reasons why he had made the decision to abdicate.

"I've entered my 80th year, an age at which none of my predecessors arrived in the exercise of their duties. I realize that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to," said the monarch, who addressed the nation in French, Dutch and German.

He added "I would not be fulfilling my duties if I clung at all costs to my position in these circumstances."

The king emphasized that his son, in leading economic missions abroad, "has demonstrated the extent to which he is committed to the country."

Belgium is a constitutional monarchy, a political system in which the king plays a largely ceremonial role. Albert succeeded his brother King Baudouin on August 9, 1993, following the latter's death at age 62.

He is the first of Belgium's six monarchs to abdicate. EFE