Anti-monarchists call for a republic as Spanish king abdicates

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Anti-monarchy activists rallied in central Madrid on Monday after hearing the historic news that, after almost four decades on the throne, King Juan Carlos is abdicating to his heir, Prince Felipe.

Anti-monarchy activists rallied in central Madrid on Monday after hearing the historic news that, after almost four decades on the throne, King Juan Carlos is abdicating to his heir, Prince Felipe.

After the announcement, the king met with business officials.

Demonstrations were organised across the country after the historic announcement earlier in the day in which the king said he would abdicate in an apparent bid to revive the scandal-hit monarchy at a time of economic hardship and growing discontent with the wider political elite.

Carrying Republican flags and chanting against the monarchy, protesters demanded a vote be held to decide whether Spaniards want a monarchy.

The once popular Juan Carlos, who helped 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, a time when one in four Spanish workers was jobless and the government teetered on the brink of default. 

A corruption scandal in the family and his visible infirmity after repeated surgery in recent years have also eroded public support.

The king's younger daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are 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.

At Puerta del Sol, many in the crowd like Isabel Garcia, said times Spaniards should not have to work to support the royal family.

"That we're working in this crisis to support them is, in my opinion, an insult to society that they have those exorbitant salaries. And, on the other hand, anyone who wants to govern or carry the country's baton should stand for election. The vote is sovereign and so are the people,"she said. 

The king, who walks with a cane and struggled to speak clearly during an important speech earlier this year, is stepping down for personal reasons, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.

But a source at the royal palace told Reuters the abdication was for political reasons. The source said the king decided in January to step down, but delayed the announcement until after the European Union election on May 25.

Political analysts said the ruling conservative People's Party (PP) was eager to put the more popular Felipe on the throne to try to combat increasingly anti-monarchist sentiment, after small leftist and anti-establishment parties did surprisingly well in the election.

Protester Daniel Rias said the abdication should trigger a re-evaluation of the need for a monarchy.

"This is the time. We can't wait any longer because it's the moment to reflect on the system. This is when it could change that they at least give the option for the people to elect what they want, what they want for their government in the future," he said. 

The king was chosen by Franco, who had ruled Spain for decades after winning a long civil war in 1939. Franco had declared himself head of state but was also de facto regent since the royal family was in exile. 

One protester, Victor, said that fact was enough reason to hold a referendum to decide whether or not Spaniards want a monarchy. 

"We need a republic because it's the maximum expression of democracy in which the head of state is democratically elected by the people in elections and not by birthright. And, besides, in Spain we have a monarchy that was imposed by a dictator who led a coup against a legitimate, republican government elected by the people," he said. 

In his first public event since announcing his abdication, the king greeted business officials including the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thomas J. Donohue.

He walked with his cane, a product of multiple hip operations. 

Sixty-two percent of Spaniards were in favour of the king stepping down, according to a January poll by Sigma Dos. That compared with 45 per cent a year earlier. Only 41 per cent of those polled had a good or very good opinion of the king. 

Polls show greater support for the low-key Felipe, 46, who has not been tarnished by the corruption allegations.

Source Reuters

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