- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2011

MONACO (AP) — Monaco’s reigning prince, Albert II, wed Charlene Wittstock of South Africa on Friday in a long-awaited civil ceremony that transformed the one-time Olympic swimmer into the Princess of Monaco.

Wittstock succeeds Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly, who wed Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III in 1956, had three children with him but died in a car accident in 1982.

Residents of the Riviera principality cheered and brandished Monaco’s white-and-red flag when the couple appeared at a palace window following Friday’s ceremony, the first of two days of royal events. The newlyweds waved back at the crowd and kissed each other shyly, sparking another round of cheers.

Wittstock wore a silken blue jacket with ankle-length palazzo pants, an outfit press handlers said was made by famed fashion house Chanel, while the prince sported a sober dark suit and shiny white tie.

When asked if they take each other in marriage, both quietly responded “Oui.” The marriage became official — and Wittstock became a princess — when Philippe Narmino, president of Monaco’s Council of State, pronounced “I declare you united by the bonds of marriage.”

Albert’s sisters — Princess Stephanie in khaki, and Princess Caroline in an oversized straw hat — were among an audience of several dozen inside the throne room, the red silk-walled hall where Grace and Rainier once took their vows.

The royal couple signed the marriage register with a specially created pen in gold and precious stones and adorned with their monogram made by the German luxury penmaker Montblanc for the ceremony.

On Saturday, the new royal couple is holding an elaborate religious wedding ceremony and a star-studded wedding gala.

Although Albert, 53, was seen for decades as one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors, he had long resisted marriage. Many in Monaco — known the world over for its lax tax laws and glamorous casinos — feared he might never tie the knot.

With her bright blue eyes and delicate features, the 33-year-old Wittstock has often been compared to Kelly, an American movie star known for her iconic fashion sense.

Monaco’s 7,618 citizens and their partners were invited to follow the ceremony on oversized screens set up on a square in front of the palace. Many were decked out for the occasion, wearing suits and fancy dresses under a blazing sun.

Monegasque citizens were also invited to post-ceremony cocktails on the square Friday, to be followed by a concert by French composer Jean Michel Jarre and a laser light show.

Friday’s wedding was the first for both Wittstock and Albert, although the soft-spoken prince has acknowledged fathering two children out of wedlock.

Rumors raged over the past few days that a third illegitimate child had recently surfaced and that development allegedly prompted Wittstock to try to call off the wedding at the last minute and return to South Africa.

The palace dismissed the stories as “ugly rumors” born out of jealousy. A top aide to the prince, speaking earlier this week on Monaco-Info TV, said the couple were “affected” by the rumors but were concentrating on last-minute preparations.

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