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Spain’s King Juan Carlos abdicates

Photo: Casa de S.M. el Rey (Spain's King Juan Carlos signs documents officially announcing his abdication)

Spain's King Juan Carlos said on Monday he would abdicate in favour of his son Prince Felipe, aiming to revive the scandal-hit monarchy at a time of economic hardship and growing discontent with the wider political elite.

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“I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the crown of Spain," he said in a televised address, citing "a drive for renewal, to overcome and correct mistakes and open the way to a decidedly better future."

He said his 46-year-old son Prince Felipe is ready for the post and will “open a new era of hope combining his acquired experience and the drive of a new generation”.

The king’s decision to abdicate had first been made public in a surprise announcement by Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earlier on Monday.

The king handed over a letter to Prime Minister Rajoy formally informing him of "my decision to abdicate the Crown of Spain".

A copy of the letter and a photograph of the monarch handing it over to the premier was released on the palace's Twitter account.

"His Majesty King Juan Carlos has just informed me of his desire to renounce the throne and begin the process of succession," Rajoy said in an announcement to the media. "I'm convinced this is the best moment for change."

Rajoy did not say when the handover would happen because the government must now craft a law creating a legal mechanism for the abdication and for Felipe’s assumption of power.

Abdication for ‘political’ reasons

King Juan Carlos has suffered numerous health problems in recent years. Between May 2010 and November 2013, he had surgery nine times: on a benign lump in his lung, his right knee, an Achilles tendon, a slipped disc, two operations on his right hip and three on his left.

However, according to a palace source, his abdication is motivated by political reasons, rather than ailing health.

“It’s a political decision. He is abdicating given the new challenges in Spain because he thinks it’s necessary to make way for the new generation,” the source told Reuters.

Far-left parties urged a national referendum to abolish Spain's monarchy and called nationwide protests Monday night.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities demanding a vote on whether to get rid of the royal family, which is descended from the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon.

"Send the Bourbons to the sharks!'' Republican flag-waving protesters shouted in Madrid.

Once popular, the 76-year-old Juan Carlos, who helped smooth Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s after the General Francisco Franco dictatorship, has lost public support in recent years due to corruption scandals and gaffes.

The king's daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are under investigation in a corruption case, while the monarch's reputation was tarnished by an elephant-shooting trip he took in the middle of Spain's financial crisis.

The king made the decision to step down in January and told Prime Minister Rajoy and Socialist opposition leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba of it in April, the palace source said.

The announcement was delayed until after the European elections to avoid affecting the vote, said the source.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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