Spain's King Felipe promises to clean up scandal-tainted monarchy

New monarch hopes to win over nation wearied by recession and graft

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 1:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 1:10am


Spain's King Felipe VI vowed to clean up the scandal-tainted monarchy as he launched his reign yesterday, cheered on by crowds of revellers waving red and yellow flags.

Thousands of Spaniards put aside their World Cup misery to line the sun-splashed streets of Madrid, yelling "Long live the king!" as Felipe, 46, and the glamorous Queen Letizia, 41, waved from an open-topped Rolls-Royce.

The former Olympic yachtsman faces the task of polishing the monarchy's image and winning over a nation wearied by recession and political corruption. In parliament, he swore an oath to serve the nation standing by the royal sceptre and crown, though it was not actually placed on his head.

The king promised "a renewed monarchy for new times", after scandals that damaged the image of his father, Juan Carlos, 76, who signed his abdication on Wednesday.

Felipe also pledged his "faith in the unity of Spain", where separatist tensions are high in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Lawmakers applauded as he finished his speech and turned to kiss Letizia, a former television newsreader.

The king stood and waved from the black Rolls, flanked by guards on horseback with silver helmets and breastplates winking in the sun, as he was driven through central Madrid to the old Royal Palace where a crowd of thousands awaited.

The royal couple waved to the cheering crowds from the palace balcony with their daughters: eight-year-old Leonor, now heiress to the throne, and Sofia, seven. Joined briefly on the balcony by Juan Carlos and Felipe's mother, Queen Sofia, the couple then went inside and shook hands one by one with 2,000 guests at a reception.

But in a nod to the tough economic times, the official celebrations were relatively restrained - there were drinks and nibbles but no banquet - and no foreign leaders or royals were invited.

The celebrations offered a distraction from the national gloom of Spain's humiliating exit from the soccer World Cup on Wednesday after a 2-0 beating by Chile. "We have lost the World Cup but that doesn't matter. It is a new day and a new king. We have to celebrate," said Eduardo Chaperon, 24.

Not everyone joined in the party. Police blocked off Puerta del Sol square to prevent a rally by protesters who want a referendum on Spain becoming a republic.

"It is shameful. It is a breach of our freedoms. What kind of democracy is this?" said Juana Leon, a 69-year-old retiree wrapped in the red, yellow and purple Spanish republican flag.

But Felipe said in his proclamation speech that he believed "the parliamentary monarchy can and must continue to provide a fundamental service to Spain".

Political leaders in Catalonia, meanwhile, are calling for a referendum on independence.

In the central Catalan town of Cervera, customers sat reading with their backs to the television as Felipe's speech came on.

"Here in Catalonia, we are not monarchists, nor fans of the Spain football team," said the bar's owner, Josep Clos. "This king is just another one who is going to live off our money."