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Spain's Senate clears way for future King Felipe VI

Spain's Senate voted massively in favour of King Juan Carlos's abdication, clearing the path for his son Felipe to take the crown in the first royal succession of the post-Franco era.

MADRID: Spain's Senate voted massively in favour of King Juan Carlos's abdication on Tuesday, clearing the path for his son Felipe to take the scandal-tainted crown in the first royal succession of the post-Franco era.

Despite smouldering pro-Republican sentiment, the upper house Senate voted 233-5 in favour of the abdication law, with 20 abstentions.

The law, backed by both the ruling conservative Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists, allows the throne to pass to the future King Felipe VI, a tall, 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman.

At the head of a new generation of royals, and with his glamorous wife Letizia, 41, a former television presenter, on his arm, the new monarch is riding high in the polls.

Excitement is building in the streets of Madrid, freshly adorned with thousands of flowers and red and yellow Spanish flags.

One shopper, Maria Teresa Gonzalez, 75, held up a replica "certificate" commemorating the enthronement, for sale in a gift shop.

"I'll frame it as a souvenir of the coronation. I wish the new king and queen health and good luck, and I hope they can help the Spanish and end the crisis," she said.

Indeed, Felipe faces a formidable task.

As king, Felipe must restore the image of the monarchy after his father's reign became bogged down in scandal; inspire a people grappling with a 26 percent unemployment rate; and try to unite the nation even as the northeastern region of Catalonia seeks an independence referendum on November 9.

Some smaller left-wing and regional parties objected to the succession vote, fired up by polls showing that most Spaniards, including some pro-royalists, would favour a referendum on the future of the monarchy.

"We are here to demand an agreement: that the king abdicates in favour of the people," said Jose Maria Mariscal, a senator from the United Left coalition.

"It is time for democracy. It is time for the people to decide their future," he told the televised Senate debate.

The Senate vote was one of the last steps before the end of the 39-year reign of 76-year-old King Juan Carlos, who guided the country from dictatorship to democracy, and his wife Queen Sofia, 75.

The outgoing king hosted the last official lunch of his reign for senior figures of state including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just before the Senate debate began.

On Wednesday, Juan Carlos will sign the act of parliament formalising his abdication.

The future Felipe VI, who stands nearly two metres (six and a half feet) tall, begins his reign the moment his father's abdication becomes legally effective on its publication late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Felipe will be sworn in to the mostly ceremonial role before both houses of parliament on Thursday.

In celebration, the new king and the queen - whose dress for the ceremony remains a closely guarded secret - will be driven through central Madrid and then appear on the front balcony of the old Royal Palace.

Spain has deployed 7,000 police for the ceremonies but no foreign dignitaries have been invited, in keeping with the hard economic times.

The new generation of Spanish royals will be hoping to regain the support of their scandal-weary subjects.

Juan Carlos, who now walks with a cane after repeated hip operations, earned broad respect for guiding Spain to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.

But he outraged public opinion in 2012 when he went on a luxury African elephant-hunting safari in the midst of a recession.

Felipe's elder sister, the 49-year-old Princess Cristina, has been named a tax crime suspect in a judicial investigation into her husband Inaki Urdangarin's allegedly corrupt business dealings.

But as others in the family suffered a sharp plunge in popularity and as polls show most Spaniards would like a referendum on the very future of the monarchy, Felipe's approval rating has actually climbed.

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