June 3, 2014

SPAIN: Thousands Of Anti-Monarchist Protesters Take To Streets Of Spain Calling For A Republic After King Juan Carlos Abdicates After 39 Years

The Daily Mail UK
written by Tara Brady
Tuesday June 3, 2014

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Spain to demand a referendum on the future of the monarchy after King Juan Carlos announced plans to abdicate and pass power to his son Felipe.

More than 20,000 demonstrators rallied in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain, in support of the end of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic. Thousands more descended on Barcelona's Catalunya square.

Petitions have appeared online with one collecting 113,000 signatures calling for Spain's political parties to take advantage of this 'historical opportunity to promote a public debate that will help regenerate democracy and determine the future of the monarchy.'

'Pride for the many good things we have achieved together. And gratitude for the support you have given me throughout my reign.'

A day after King Juan Carlos announced he is ending a 39-year reign that guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy, the government has begun the process of replacing the monarch for the first time in its post-Franco history.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy presided over an extraordinary cabinet meeting at midday yesterday to draw up a draft abdication law, which must then be approved by parliament.

The law, which could take four weeks to be approved according to Spanish media, will draw the curtain on the 76-year-old king's rule, dogged by scandals in the twilight of his reign.

At the same time, it will clear the throne for his son, Crown Prince Felipe, a six foot six inch tall former Olympic yachtsman, and for his future queen Letizia, a glamourous former television news presenter.

In a televised address to the nation, Juan Carlos said the economic crisis had awakened a 'desire for renewal, to overcome and correct mistakes and open the way to a decidedly better future'.

'Today a younger generation deserves to step into the front line, with new energies,' said the monarch, looking relaxed in a grey suit and green tie.

'For all these reasons... I have decided to end my reign.'

Juan Carlos was widely respected for smoothing Spain's transition to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, most famously facing down an attempted military coup in February 1981.

But gaffes and family scandals later slashed his popularity.

In a study by pollster Sigma Dos published in January 2014, support for the king fell to 41 per cent while those wanting him to abdicate in favour of Felipe surged to 62 per cent.

Most worryingly for royalists, the same survey found only 49 per cent approved of the monarchy itself.

Alejandro Ricas, a 19-year-old student, said: 'I would like for us Spanish people to be able to choose whether we want a monarchy or a republic. The monarchy is obsolete'

Three small leftist parties - Podemos, United Left and the Equo green party which together won 20 per cent of the vote in May 25 European Parliament elections - called for a referendum on the monarchy.

Pro-republican activists also called for rallies in Spanish squares.

'There will be tension, there will be difficult times, but the prince just has to demonstrate that he is capable, because he is. He has a clean record, is fair, hard working. You can't ask for more,' said royal biographer Cesar del al Lama.

'He will not be weighed down like the king by having a corrupt son-in-law. He will not make a mistake like the Botswana hunting trip.'

Felipe will come to the throne as the government of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia is pushing to hold an independence referendum in November - a vote that is fiercely opposed by the central government in Madrid.

The king has called Felipe, who was schooled for his future role as monarch in the three branches of the armed forces and during studies abroad, the 'best prepared' heir to the Spanish throne in history.

He kept him at his side on the night of February 23, 1981 when soldiers firing shots over the heads of lawmakers seized parliament in a bid to re-establish a military regime.

Juan Carlos appeared live on television in military uniform and ordered the coup plotters back to their barracks, a move that cemented his image as the guarantor of Spain's young democracy.

'It is a difficult time but the prince has had the best preparation since the day he was born to lead at this moment,' said Fermin J. Urbiola, a journalist who has written several books on the king.

Juan Carlos decided to step down on his 76th birthday and hand the throne to his son Prince Felipe, 46, and his glamourous wife Letizia, a former award-winging newsreader and divorcee.

His is the third European monarch to abdicate in just over a year after King Albert II of Belgium gave his crown to son Philippe last July, three months after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands made way for her firstborn, Prince Willem-Alexander.

Juan Carlos, who oversaw his country's transition from dictatorship to democracy [Spain is not a democracy. Spain went from a dictatorship to a monarchy. (emphasis mine)], has seen the twilight of his monarchy blighted by scandal and health problems, including five operations in the last two years.

His popularity nosedived in the face of a string of corruption scandals and gaffes in recent years, including the infamous photograph of him posing - gun on hip - next to a dead elephant in Botswana while his homeland wallowed in its 2012 financial crisis.

Today a source at the royal palace said the king was abdicating for political reasons - rather than due to failing health - as the country faces up to the worst economic crisis in memory.

Seated in front of a Spanish flag, the King told his subjects: ‘I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the crown of Spain.

A new generation is quite rightly demanding to take the lead role.’

Juan Carlos came to power in 1975, two days after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco.

Known - like his namesake, the great lothario Don Juan - as a prolific seducer, he is said to have bedded more than 1,500 women, among whom is rumoured have been Princess Diana.

And as Spain's new democracy matured over the years, the king played a largely figurehead role, travelling the globe as an ambassador for the country, and was a stabilising force in a country with restive, independence-minded regions such as the Basque region and Catalonia.

Juan Carlos has melded the trappings of royalty with down-to-earth, regular-guy charm. The king is an avid sports fan and after the Madrid terror bombings of March 11, 2004, showed he could grieve like anyone else.

At an emotional state funeral for the 191 people killed in the train bombings by Islamic militants, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia slowly went row-by-row through Madrid's Almudena Cathedral, clasping the hands of sobbing mourners or kissing them on the cheek.

But his patient work nearly came undone during the financial crisis by the now-infamous elephant shoot in Botswana that resulted in him being pilloried across Spain and removed by conservation group WWF as its honorary president.

Despite his apology to the Spanish people for the hunting trip, which only came to light when he was flown home from Africa after breaking a hip, an online petition calling for his resignation from the WWF post accumulated almost 85,000 signatures.

The controversy prompted Spanish newspapers to publish a photo of the king on a previous safari, in which he is seen standing with a gun beside a dead elephant.

'Although this type of hunting is legal and regulated, many members consider it to be incompatible with the position of honorary patron of an international organisation that aims to protect the environment,' WWF said at the time.

But his monarchy has also been heavily blighted by an investigation into his son-in law, Inaki Urdangarin.

The Olympic handball medalist turned businessman has been questioned in connection with a corruption scandal involving claims that he embezzled public funds to organise sports events.

Sensationally, his daughter, Princess Cristina, was forced to testify in the fraud and money-laundering case in January, making her the first Spanish royal to be questioned in court since Juan Carlos took the throne.

A judge in Palma de Mallorca is expected to decide soon whether to put Urdangarin on trial on charges of embezzling 6 million euros in public funds through his charity.

The 76-year-old king, whose health is failing and has had five operations in two years, had a reputation as a fun-loving ladies' man who slept with over 1,500 women.

Among them, was alleged to be Princess Diana herself, according to Barcelona-based author Pilar Eyre who has written six books about the Spanish royal family.

Prime minister Rajoy said his cabinet would meet very soon to set out the steps for Prince Felipe to take over as Felipe VI.

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