Spain set its future King Felipe VI on the path to the throne yesterday, launching an unprecedented handover of the crown in the face of anti-royalist protests.
A day after 76-year-old King Juan Carlos declared an end to a four-decade reign that guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy, the government met to ponder the first succession in post-Franco history. Francisco Franco, the country's fascist dictator, died in 1975.
Watch: Spain's King Juan Carlos abdicates to 'renew' monarchy
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy presided over an extraordinary cabinet meeting to draw up a draft abdication law, which must be approved by parliament in a process that could take weeks.
The twilight of the Bourbon king's reign has been dogged by scandal and health woes, including repeated hip surgery. Dressed in a green military uniform at a prescheduled medal-awarding ceremony in the sun-splashed grounds of the El Escorial palace near Madrid yesterday, the king could be seen walking with an awkward shuffle.
But during the televised ceremony the monarch looked relaxed as he spoke occasionally to his son, 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe, as they appeared together for the first time since the abdication was announced.
Not all Spaniards celebrated the impending arrival of Felipe, a tall former Olympic yachtsman more popular than his father, and his 41-year-old wife, the future queen Letizia, a glamorous former television news presenter.
Thousands of anti-royalists took to the streets across Spain in the hours after Juan Carlos' announcement, calling for a vote on the monarchy's survival.
Protesters filled Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square and police closed access to the royal palace just a few minutes' walk from the demonstration for several hours.
"Tomorrow, Spain will be a republic!" chanted crowds with placards reading: "No more kings, a referendum", "A royal transition … without a king", and "Bourbons up for election".