King Felipe VI was sworn in as Spain’s new monarch on Thursday and immediately sought to knit together a country threatened by a growing separatist movement in Catalonia.
In a subdued ceremony, Felipe said there was room in Spain for both unity and diversity, ending a long speech by saying “thank you” in four of Spain’s languages: Castilian Spanish, Basque, Catalan and Galician.
Although he holds a largely symbolic role as head of state, supporters hope Felipe will work to keep Spain together and usher in a new era of popularity for the troubled royal household.
Spain is also battling high unemployment, particularly among youngsters who are less monarchist than older generations.
“The monarchy definitely needs a breath of fresh air and I hope Felipe VI brings ideas that will calm those who have their doubts,” said Miguel Angel Delgado, 39, an unemployed music teacher who travelled from Seville to join the celebrations.
Felipe, wearing military uniform with a sash and medals, became King after his father, Juan Carlos, abdicated earlier this month following a series of scandals that has led many Spaniards to question the role of the monarchy itself.
“There is room for all of us in a united and diverse Spain,” Felipe, 46, said in his speech to dignitaries gathered in the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies. He stressed respect for the diverse cultures and languages within Spain.
The new King waved to well-wishers on the balcony of the royal palace alongside his wife, Queen Letizia, a former journalist, and their daughters – Leonor, 8, and Sofia, 7 – ahead of a reception attended by business leaders, politicians, bullfighters, athletes and comedians.
The royal couple arrived at the palace – a 1738 building used for visits of heads of state and ceremonies – after riding through central Madrid in an open Rolls-Royce, escorted by mounted guards with tasseled helmets.
Thousands of people lined the route, waving flags and shouting “Long live the King” as the mood in the capital turned to celebrations despite reigning soccer champion Spain’s crushing World Cup defeat in Brazil on Wednesday.
Security was very tight in central Madrid, with helicopters buzzing overhead and 7,000 police and 120 snipers out on the streets. Spot checks were frequent and local media reported a handful of arrests for displaying republican flags.
Madrid authorities had denied republicans permission to rally, though protesters clad in the red, yellow and purple flags of Spain’s second republic in the 1930s tried to get close to the parade, angering some royal supporters.
Polls show the decision to hand over to Felipe has boosted the popularity of the royals. But two-thirds of Spaniards also support the idea of a referendum on whether Spain should continue to be a constitutional monarchy, according to a recent poll.
“I’m not asking for a republic, but for people to be able to speak out,” said 17-year-old student Camilo Buchelli, who joined a short march calling for a referendum.
Local media said three people had been arrested after trying to jump over police barriers.
Felipe’s multilingual gesture during the ceremony also got a cool response from the regional leaders of Catalonia and Basque Country, who were sitting in parliament listening to the speech and were notably restrained in their applause.
The coronation ceremony, at the Congress of Deputies, had little pomp and circumstance compared with royal handovers in other countries. It was more of a legal process, attended by lawmakers, high-level politicians and some members of the royal family. No foreign leaders were invited.
The event was designed to chime with times of austerity, palace officials said, mindful that more than one in four Spanish workers is jobless despite an incipient economic recovery.
“We need to win the battle to create jobs, which is Spaniards’ primary concern,” Felipe said in his speech.
Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, did not attend the event to allow the spotlight to rest fully on the new monarch, according to the palace. His sister, Cristina, whose husband is charged with embezzling millions of euros of public funds, and her family were also absent.
Juan Carlos lost favour with crisis-hit Spaniards after going on a secret elephant hunting trip at the height of Spain’s financial crisis in 2012. Felipe has distanced himself from his sister and has remained untouched by the scandals.
Spain’s New King
The 46-year-old who succeeded to the Spanish throne on Thursday is the only son of Juan Carlos and his wife, Sofia. As male heir he bypassed his two elder sisters, Elena and Cristina.
His full name is Felipe Juan Pablo y Alfonso de Todos los Santos. He is named after Philip V (1683-1746), the first Borbon king of Spain.
In 2004, he married a star TV presenter, Letizia, and they have two daughters: Leonor, 8, and Sofia, 7.
A sports enthusiast, Felipe was in Spain’s Olympic yachting team at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
As a high-school student, he spent a year at Lakefield College School in Ontario.
He has a law degree from the Madrid Autonomous University.
Juan Carlos I
The 76-year-old abdicating king gave up the Spanish crown on Wednesday.
In 1975, after the death of General Francisco Franco, he became Spain’s first crowned head of state in 44 years. Soon after, he brought in reforms to dismantle the Francoist regime and begin the country’s transition to democracy.
He is credited with helping defuse an attempted coup in 1981 by soldiers who stormed into parliament.
Juan Carlos’s image later suffered from scandals. A corruption investigation targeted his youngest daughter, Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin.
A luxury elephant-hunting trip he took to Botswana in 2012 was seen as an unacceptable extravagance during a recession.
The 41-year-old former TV anchor Letizia Ortiz is Spain’s first commoner queen.
She was born in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo, the daughter of a journalist and a nurse, and the granddaughter of a taxi driver.
She and Felipe dated in secret before their engagement was announced in November, 2003. They met at a dinner organized by a journalist friend.
Her first marriage to high-school literature teacher, Alonso Guerrero, ended in divorce in 1999.
She worked in both print and broadcast journalism. While based in Mexico, she covered stories such as the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the Iraq war.
Spain’s facts & figures
-1.2% - The amount Spain’s real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted in 2013
+1.0% - Forecast real GDP growth in 2014
-6.7% - The total amount Spain’s real GDP has contracted since 2008
25.1% - Spain’s unemployment rate as of April, 2014
53.5% - Spain’s unemployment rate (April) for workers under 25 years old
$1.31-trillion (U.S.) - Spain’s total government debt at the end of 2013
$1.39-trillion (U.S.) - Spain’s GDP in 2013
93.9% - Spain’s debt-to-GDP ratio in 2013
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