Dutch royal couple visits island of St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten (AP) Hundreds of people in St. Maarten greeted Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, on Wednesday during their first visit to the Dutch Caribbean island since becoming new monarchs.

The two expected to meet with local government officials as part of a weeklong tour of six islands with ties to the Netherlands.

The couple waved to a crowd gathered behind barricades at the main government building in the capital of Philipsburg, where they were greeted by children clutching orange flags and wearing paper crowns on their heads.

"''We came here to see our new king," said Elvia Guy, a retired government worker. "It's very important to be here."

Willem-Alexander became the new Dutch monarch on April 30 after his mother, former Queen Beatrix, abdicated after 33 years on the throne.

Mariette Schrijvers, a 58-year-old teacher from Holland, said she would like to see Dutch officials visit St. Maarten more often, saying the relationship on both sides could be warmer.

"The crown can also get to know more about education, medical care and the physically challenged in St.

Maarten during their visits," she said.

The couple is expected to also visit Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba.

The Dutch colonized the islands in the 17th century, and they once formed part of the Netherlands Antilles.

In 2010, St. Maarten and Curacao followed Aruba's lead and obtained greater power of government and began collecting their own tax revenues. Meanwhile, the smaller islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire became Dutch municipalities.

The islands' people are Dutch nationals, and Willem-Alexander is their head of state, overseeing foreign affairs and defense.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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