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Well-wishers immediately gathered outside the palace Monday.

One of them, Laura Dinkshof, took along a homemade orange banner. “We hope the queen will see it,” she said. “It says we were very happy with our queen and we wish her a nice retirement and that we have trust in our new king.”

Rutte, a staunch monarchist, said that ever since her coronation in 1980, Beatrix _ the nation’s oldest-ever monarch _ “applied herself heart and soul for Dutch society.”

Beatrix succeeded her mother, Juliana, as head of state, and her reign has been marked by tumultuous shifts in Dutch society and, more recently, by personal tragedy.

Observers believe Beatrix remained on the throne for so long in part because of unrest in Dutch society as the country struggled to assimilate more and more immigrants, mainly Muslims from North Africa, and shifted away from its traditional reputation as one of the world’s most tolerant nations.

Beatrix was also thought to be giving time for her son to enjoy fatherhood before taking the throne.

The abdication also comes at a time of trial for Beatrix. A year ago, she was struck by personal tragedy when the second of her three sons, Prince Friso, was left in a coma after being engulfed by an avalanche while skiing in Austria.

And even in a job that is mostly symbolic to begin with, the previous government stripped her of one of her few remaining powers: the ability to name a candidate to begin Cabinet formation after the election of the national parliament.

Beatrix’s reign began in difficult economic times and there were riots in Amsterdam at her inauguration, as thousands of demonstrators protesting the city’s housing shortages fought pitched battles with police just a few hundred meters (yards) from the downtown palace where she was crowned.

But throughout her tenure she was a calming influence on society, particularly in the aftermath of the 2002 assassination of populist politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder two years later of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist.

Personal tragedies have exposed a softer side of the queen and brought her closer to her subjects.

The 2002 death of her German-born husband, Prince Claus, took a toll on her, and it was apparent how deep her reliance on the quiet man had been: she was filmed leaning heavily, almost hanging, on Prince Friso’s arm as they entered the church for her spouse’s funeral.

In another blow, a deranged loner tried to slam a car into an open-topped bus carrying members of the royal family as they celebrated the Queens Day national holiday in 2009. The driver killed seven people who had gathered to watch the royals, a brazen attack that shocked the nation.

Friso, who had been such a support after Claus’ death, remains in a coma. Late last year, the Royal House said he showed “very minimal” signs of consciousness.

“I think it’s a good time for her to leave, with all that happened in her life recently,” said 44-year-old Bert Duesenberg of The Hague as he stood at the queen’s palace gates. “I also think that Alexander is ready to take over, and he has to do that. It is good news, and it’s time for the change.”

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