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Bhutan's monarch set to marry later this year

Their thunder may have been stolen by Prince William and Kate Middleton, but the monarch of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and his sweetheart plan to marry this year.

Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, Bhutan's 31-year-old Oxford-educated king, will wed a 20-year-old commoner.

The would-be queen of the nation of 700,000 people is Jetsun Pema, a student at London's Regent College.

"As king, it is now time to marry," Wangchuck said Friday at the end of an address to Bhutan's parliament in the capital, Thimphu, that was also attended by members of the royal family and elected representatives.

Wangchuck became king in June 2008 after the abdication of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who stepped down to usher in democracy. The country is now a constitutional monarchy.

"His majesty's wedding announcement is the talk of the town. People are happy," Sangay Duba, a senior Bhutanese government official, told The Associated Press by telephone. "This is what the Bhutanese were waiting to hear because ours is a hereditary monarchy, and this marriage will give us our next king."

According to the Kuensel, the main newspaper in Bhutan, the king told parliament, "I cannot say how she might appear to the people, but to me, she is the one."

"While she is young, she is warm and kind in heart and character. These qualities, together with the wisdom that will come with age and experience, will make her a great servant to the nation," Kuensel quoted Wangchuck as saying.

Wangchuck said the wedding would be later this year but did not give a date, the newspaper reported.

The wedding will likely be a huge event in Bhutan, where the royals are deeply loved, but it's unlikely to generate the same kind of international frenzy as the British royal wedding in April.

Bhutan first began opening up to the world in the 1960s. Foreigners and the international media were first admitted in 1974, while the Internet and television finally arrived in 1999.