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On his birthday, Spain's king honours young daughter

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Madrid (AFP)

Spain's King Felipe VI celebrated his 50th birthday Tuesday by shining the spotlight on his 12-year-old daughter Leonor, honouring her with the country's most prestigious award as he seeks to drum up support for the monarchy.

The ceremony in Madrid's royal palace came as uncertainty persists in Catalonia, where an attempt to break away and form an independent republic has threatened the unity of Spain and the monarchy itself.

A spokesman for the royals, who refused to be named, described the event as "an act of historical importance for the king and the princess, heir to the throne."

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy added on Facebook that the public ceremony was a way to underscore the "will to persist with Spain's parliamentary monarchy."

During the ceremony, the angelic-looking princess, smiling and shy, stood between her tall father and her grandfather Juan Carlos I, who reigned 38 years until his abdication in 2014 following several scandals.

She curtsied to both of them, to her mother Letizia and her grandmother Sofia.

Felipe VI gave her the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Spain's most prestigious award that dates from 1430.

"All your actions will have to be guided by the highest sense of dignity and exemplarity, honesty and integrity, a sense of renunciation and sacrifice... and your unreserved devotion to your country and to your people," he said.

To mark his birthday, the royal palace over the weekend released dozens of photos and videos providing a rare glimpse of Felipe's domestic life with his wife Letizia, a former TV anchor, and their two young daughters.

They show Leonor in her school uniform holding Felipe's hand, laughing while eating soup at the family dinner table, and teasing the king just before he taped his annual Christmas message.

The images are meant to make the royal couple more relatable to Spaniards, in a country where the monarchy was only restored in 1975 following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco, and support for the institution is shaky.

Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 over his poor health and a series of scandals, particularly one involving his daughter Cristina whose husband, ex-Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, was later found guilty of siphoning off millions of euros of public funds.

Felipe's reign, meanwhile, has been tested by the ongoing crisis over Catalonia's breakaway attempt in October.

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