Spain’s new King Felipe VI has sworn to serve the crisis-stricken nation as he launched his reign, sparking
celebrations by flag-waving revellers in the streets.
Thousands of Spaniards put aside their World Cup misery to line the streets, yelling “Long live Spain! Long live the king!” as the tall, 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman stepped out of a Rolls Royce in military uniform before entering parliament.
The cry soon went up inside the chamber as Felipe vowed before MPs to defend the people and constitution and pledged his “faith in the unity of Spain”, where separatist tensions are high in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
“I swear to carry out my duties loyally, safeguard and ensure the safeguarding of the constitution and respect the rights of citizens and the regions,” the monarch proclaimed on Thursday.
“I begin my reign with great excitement at the honour of taking the crown, conscious of the responsibility that brings with it, and with great hope for the future,” he told MPs.
Seated alongside him in parliament were his wife, the new Queen Letizia, 41, and their daughters eight-year-old Leonor, who is now heiress to the throne, and Sofia, seven.
Outside, as police helicopters hovered above, officers closed off city-centre avenues and snipers deployed on roofs in a 7000-strong security operation for the royal festivities.
Felipe leads a royal family tarnished by scandal after the 39-year reign of his 76-year-old father Juan Carlos, who signed his act of abdication at the Royal Palace on Wednesday.
Now he must try to rally a people stricken by a 26 per cent jobless rate and strained by secessionist stirrings in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which wants an independence vote on November 9.
Thousands of red and yellow Spanish flags fluttered through the city as shops scrambled to sell T-shirts and fridge magnets commemorating the new royals.
The royal couple were to appear on the Royal Palace balcony with former King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to wave to crowds below before holding a reception for 2000 guests.
In keeping with Spain’s tough economic times, festivities remain restrained, however, compared to other European royal coronations and no foreign dignitaries have been invited.
On Wednesday, a teary-eyed and infirm Juan Carlos ended his reign with a stroke of a golden pen in the vast Hall of Columns in the Royal Palace.
The former king earned broad respect for guiding Spain to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975 and for appearing on national television to thwart an attempted military coup in 1981.
But he outraged public opinion in 2012 when he went on a luxury African elephant-hunting safari as Spaniards suffered at home from a biting recession.
Felipe’s elder sister, the 49-year-old Princess Cristina, has been named a tax crime suspect in a judicial investigation into her husband Inaki Urdangarin’s allegedly corrupt business dealings.
Cristina’s woes could present the first major challenge to Felipe, as an investigating judge in Palma de Mallorca ponders in the weeks ahead whether to send her to trial.
But Felipe’s popularity has climbed.
A poll taken after Juan Carlos announced his abdication to a surprised nation on June 2 showed almost 77 per cent of respondents had a good or very good opinion of his son.