Spain's King Juan Carlos abdicates to revive monarchy

Mon Jun 2, 2014 5:05pm EDT
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By Rodrigo De Miguel and Elisabeth O'Leary

MADRID (Reuters) - 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.

"A new generation is quite rightly demanding to take the lead role," Juan Carlos, 76, said on television, hours after a surprise announcement from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that the monarch would step down after almost 40 years on the throne.

The once-popular monarch, who helped to smooth Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, seemed increasingly out of touch in recent years.

He took a secret luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012, at a time when one in four Spanish workers was jobless and the government teetered on the brink of a debt default.

A corruption scandal in the family and his visible infirmity have also eroded public support. Polls show greater support for the low-key Felipe, 46, who has not been tarnished by the corruption allegations.

The king's younger daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are both under investigation and a judge is expected to decide soon whether to put Urdangarin on trial on charges of embezzling 6 million euros in public funds through his charity. He and Cristina deny wrongdoing.

Rajoy said the king, who walks with a cane after multiple hip operations and struggled to speak clearly during an important speech earlier this year, was stepping down for personal reasons.

But a source at the royal palace told Reuters that political factors had driven the decision. The source said the king had decided in January to step down, but delayed the announcement until after the European Union election on May 25. [ID:nS8N0MS00O]   Continued...

Spain's King Juan Carlos delivers his statement at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid June 2, 2014.   REUTERS/Spanish Royal House