Battle Royal in Belgium Palace

Prince Laurent and Princess Claire of Belgium attend the inauguration of the social-economic sales and meeting point 'Groenhof St-Joseph' of 'vzw De Kromme Boom' in Oostakker, on April 1, 2011. AFP PH.
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Prince Laurent and his wife Princess Claire of Belgium attend the inauguration of a new business project in Oostakker, on April 1, 2011.
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BRUSSELS (CBS/AP) There's a palace war going on in Belgium on a scale rarely seen among the once placid royal lamily It involves an aging king, a rebellious prince, racy headlines, palace intrigue and the future of the monarchy itself.

The wrath of 76-year-old King Albert II was provoked when his youngest son, the 47-year-old Prince Laurent visited Congo, Belgium's former colony, last month against the wishes of both his father and the Belgian government.

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The prince inflamed the situation further Tuesday when his adviser told Humo magazine that the palace is giving free rein to ``destructive forces'' and playing ``a bizarre role'' in disputes surrounding the monarchy at a time when the need for the monarchy itself is being questioned.

A palace official retorted that the king wouldn't react to ``delusions'' that only obscure the fact that the prince should never have gone to Congo. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to standing rules.

As third child of the king, Laurent is 12th in line to the throne .Never have family affairs spilled out into the open like this and it comes as the kingdom is going through political turmoil between its 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and its 4.5 million Francophones.

The monarchy is one of the last symbols of unity in the increasingly divided country.

Still, for some the royal brouhaha has been a welcome respite from Belgium's tedious political negotiations, which have left the nation without an acting government for almost a year as both sides seek more autonomy.

``War in the Palace,'' headlined the usually understated De Standaard newspaper. ``Open warfare in Laken,'' added the De Morgen paper, referring to the king's leafy, secluded palace on the outskirts of Brussels.

There long had been rumors about parental displeasure with youngest son Laurent, a father of three who has been dubbed ``enfant terrible'' in the media for his long tradition of courting controversy either for his speedy driving, love of expensive furniture, former romantic connections and, now, unauthorized travel. Back in 2003, Laurent's name arose in connection with a corruption scandal and news reports at the time said he was not welcome at the palace.

Last week, Prime Minister Yves Leterme lashed out at the prince in Parliament, saying he ``disregarded his obligations'' by traveling there despite the clear objections of the government and his father. What made matters worse is that Laurent also had a brief meeting with President Joseph Kabila without any diplomatic oversight. Belgium has had fraught relations with Congo after a bloody and discriminatory colonial rule.

Leterme told the prince to either abide by government demands or forsake his annual stipend of around $400,000 in the future Laurent said he would not give up his stipend and said there was nothing wrong with traveling to Congo to study deforestation. His adviser, Pierre Legros, told Humo that it all pointed to ``a campaign to destroy the prince.''

Under King Baudouin, Albert's predecessor, the only major royal scandal was Baudouin's refusal to sign an abortion law, which forced him off the throne for a day. King Albert, who succeeded his brother in 1993, saw his own image darkened when he had to acknowledge a dozen years ago that he had an out-of-wedlock daughter.

Otherwise Belgium's royals have largely faded into the background, even in society magazines