Spain's new king, Felipe VI has begun his reign with a call for national unity and a pledge to serve his country. The king succeeded his father, Juan Carlos, who announced his intention to abdicate several weeks ago.
King Felipe VI was sworn in as Spain's new monarch in a short ceremony held in the country's parliament on Thursday. Shortly after he took the oath, in which he swore allegiance to Spain's democratic principles, the lawmakers and senators in attendance shouted: "Viva el Rey! (Long live the king!).
Out of sensitivity for the plight of many Spaniards who have faced much hardship due to the country's double-dip recession in recent years, the royal family decided to opt for a relatively low-key proclamation instead of a full-blown coronation.
Speaking in a nationally televised address just moments after taking the oath, King Felipe also pledged to deliver to Spaniards "a renewed monarchy for new times."
"We have a great country. We should all be proud of being Spaniards," the new king said.
At the same time, he acknowledged the plight of the many ordinary Spaniards who have been left out of work by the economic crisis.
"We need to win the battle to create jobs, which is Spaniards' primary concern."
The new monarch also said he had "faith in the unity of Spain", where separatist tensions run high, particularly in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
In a further gesture of unity, he ended his speech by saying "thank you" in three regional languages, Catalan, Basque and Galician.
Later, cheering crowds waving Spanish flags lined the streets as the king and Queen Letizia drove through the streets of Madrid in an open-topped vintage Rolls Royce. For many, the occasion must have been a welcome distraction just hours after the national football team crashed out of the World Cup in Brazil after losing 2-0 to Chile on Wednesday night.
The new king had legally taken office at midnight, after his father had signed legislation that set out the legal framework for his abdication and replacement by his son.
The 76-year-old King Juan Carlos had announced his decision to abdicate on June 2. He said he wanted to step aside because Spain needed the energy of his 46-year-old son to rally the country, which has long been mired in economic woes.
Drop in popularity
Juan Carlos had been on the Spanish throne since 1975 and was long held in high esteem as he helped the country make the transition to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco.
However, in recent years, King Juan Carlos saw his popularity drop amid a series of scandals involving some members of the royal family. Earlier this year, his youngest daughter, Princess Cristina, had to appear in court to testify in a fraud and money-laundering case involving her husband.
In 2012, the king himself faced widespread criticism after the news emerged that he had gone on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana at the height of Spain's financial crisis.
pfd/hc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)