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Rajoy, on abdication day: Majority support Spain's monarchy

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that a referendum on the future of the monarchy would first require a change to Spain's constitution. His cabinet and parliament are paving the way for King Juan Carlos to abdicate.

Spain's premier on Tuesday sought to quell talk of a referendum on the future of the country's monarchy, as his government sought to enable King Juan Carlos' abdication of the throne.

Thousands of protesters filled Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square on Monday night calling for a referendum on the monarchy's role, hours after the abdication was announced.

"I think the monarchy has the support of the great majority in Spain," Rajoy said at a news conference on Tuesday morning. "Propose a constitutional reform if you don't like this constitution. You have the perfect right to do so. But what you cannot do in a democracy is bypass the law."

In 1978, as Spain returned to democracy following the Franco dictatorship, 88 percent of voters supported the establishment of a constitutional monarchy at a referendum.

Three small leftist parties - Podemos, United Left and the Equo green party - on Monday proposed a referendum on the monarchy. The fringe groups won a combined 20 percent of the vote in Spain's elections for the European Parliament last month.

Protesters on the streets chanted similar messages, displaying placards with messages including: "Tomorrow, Spain will be a republic!" and "No more kings, a referendum."

Fading sheen

Juan Carlos' 46-year-old son, future King Felipe VI, will replace the 76-year-old. The outgoing king's four-decade reign, starting as Spain returned to democracy after the Franco dictatorship, was broadly popular, with his efforts to resist a 1981 coup attempt particularly praised. In recent years, however, the royal family has come under pressure. An elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 was perceived as a luxurious expense during Spain's recession. The king's position as an honorary functionary with the World Wildlife Fund, a role he was subsequently stripped of, also prompted allegations of hypocrisy.

The family also won unwanted headlines in relation to a corruption trial against Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of the king's younger daughter Cristina, who was called as a witness in the case.

Juan Carlos spoke on Spain's economic difficulties, most notably runaway unemployment figures, when announcing that he would abdicate - saying there was a "desire for renewal" in the country.

"Today a younger generation deserves to step into the front line, with new energies," Juan Carlos said, adding that his son was the "best prepared" heir to the Spanish throne in history. Felipe was groomed to be head of state in all three branches of the armed forces and during studies abroad.

He was also at his father's side during the failed coup attempt of February 23, 1981.

msh/dr (AFP, dpa)