After two years of celebrations muted by coronavirus lockdowns, the Netherlands marked King Willem-Alexander's 55th birthday Wednesday with street parties, music festivals and a national poll showing trust in the monarch ebbing away.
The king, who was photographed drinking a beer with Vladimir Putin at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, voiced criticism of the Russian president as he expressed gratitude for being able to celebrate his birthday in “peace and freedom.”
The poll conducted by Ipsos for national broadcaster NOS showed the king’s approval rating had slipped to 6.7 on a 10-point scale, compared to 7.7 in 2020. Willem-Alexander told the broadcaster he did not pay much attention to polls.
“What I do think is very good is constructive criticism,” he said. “In other words, if you don’t have that, you can end up like a Putin, and nobody wants that.”
Willem-Alexander said he was grateful for the birthday festivities after two years of coronavirus restrictions, but he alluded to Russia's two-month-old war in Ukraine.
“You see not far from here in Ukraine what it means if you don’t have peace and freedom,” the king said. "So we should be extra grateful as the Netherlands that we can celebrate this together without forgetting that it can be very different. So Ukraine lives in my heart.”
He was in the southern city of Maastricht, which hosted an event for the king and his family that included music from “King of the Waltz" André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.
The city was originally scheduled to host the celebration in 2020, but it was twice delayed amid coronavirus lockdown measures.
Royal fans lined the streets and exchanged fist bumps — instead of pre-COVID-19 handshakes — with the king, his wife, Queen Maxima, their three daughters and other members of the royal family.
A small group of republicans held up a banner saying “Willem the Last” near the route of the royal walkabout.
Elsewhere across the Netherlands, people dressed in the national color, orange, held street parties and sold unwanted belongings at sidewalk “free markets.”
In Amsterdam, children sold their surplus toys, clothes and books at a free market in the Dutch capital's largest public park, the Vondelpark.
By early afternoon, police urged people not to take to the city's famed canals in boats, saying they were already “too busy.”
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.
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