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Modern king and queen take throne of weary Spain

Waving to crowds from the palace alongside his glamorous former newsreader wife, Spain's new king Felipe VI will take the crown on Thursday hoping to help heal a crisis-stricken nation.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2014 12:03 IST

Waving to crowds from the palace alongside his glamorous former newsreader wife, Spain's new king Felipe VI will take the crown on Thursday hoping to help heal a crisis-stricken nation.

The blue-eyed 46-year-old, a former Olympic yachtsman just under two metres (six foot, six inches) tall, will stand in military uniform to swear an oath in parliament.

Felipe and his wife Letizia, 41 -- dubbed Spain's first "middle class" queen -- will then wave from the balcony of Madrid's Royal Palace and entertain 2,000 guests at a reception.

Overall, it will be a relatively sober ceremony in keeping with Spain's crisis spending cuts, with no foreign dignitaries invited.

Then Felipe must turn his mind to the job: modernising the monarchy as the head of a state wearied by recession, corruption and separatist tensions.

Felipe VI has been groomed for this moment since he was a boy. It is Spain's first royal succession since the monarchy was re-established in 1975.

He ascends the throne with rising popularity despite scandals that have blackened the reputation of his abdicating father Juan Carlos and elder sister Cristina.

"Felipe seems very well-prepared to govern," said passer-by Enrique Martin, 71, strolling in the sunshine near the Royal Palace.

"He is a young lad, with young ideas. He has an enormous responsibility but I think he will do as his father did: try to be the king of all the Spanish. I am sure he will manage it."

To-do list

In his first public remarks after his father announced an end to his 39-year reign, Felipe urged Spaniards to work together for a better future.

"In difficult periods such as these we are going through, past experience in history shows us that only by uniting our desires, putting the common good ahead of individual interests and promoting the initiative, curiosity and creativity of each person, can we manage to advance to better scenarios," he said.

Some say he must bridge the divisions of the old two-party system and modernise Spain's 1978 constitution. Others want him to help the millions of poor and unemployed.

With the Catalonia region vowing to vote on independence in November and rising nationalist parties in the Basque Country, many are looking to Felipe to unify the country.

But analysts warn that as head of state in a parliamentary democracy, his influence over politics is limited.

"The country needs a breath od fresh air, new energy. But you have to be careful not to raise expectations too high," said Jose Apezarena, author of a book on Felipe.

"It would be wrong to think that the country will move forward and the economy or the separatist issues will be fixed just because a new king is coming to the throne."

Overcoming scandals

Closer to home, Felipe is called on to polish the monarchy's image, tarnished by scandals.

Juan Carlos outraged Spaniards in 2012 by going elephant-hunting during a recession. Felipe's sister Cristina risks being put on trial for alleged tax fraud.

After the abdication announcement, crowds marched in the street calling for a referendum on whether to have a king at all.

But amid the scandals, Felipe's approval rating has actually climbed.

He will be sworn in on Thursday morning on a specially built platform draped in red in the lower house of parliament, the Congress.

As well as hundreds of Spanish deputies and senators, Letizia and their two daughters will witness the swearing-in.

The palace said Juan Carlos will not attend so as not to draw attention away from his son. Cristina too will be absent. No visiting foreign dignitaries are invited.

The new king and queen will then be driven through central Madrid to the old Royal Palace. Thousands of police will be deployed as big crowds are expected.

"The king does not have the power to change anything," Apezarena said. "But he can unite people."