MADRID - Spain's new King Felipe VI swore to serve the crisis-stricken nation as he launched his reign on Thursday, sparking celebrations by flag-waving revellers in the streets.
Thousands of Spaniards put aside their World Cup misery to line the streets, yelling "Long live Spain! Long live the king!" as the tall, 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman stepped out of a black Rolls Royce in military uniform before entering parliament.
The cry soon went up inside the chamber as King Felipe vowed before lawmakers to defend the people and constitution and pledged his "faith in the unity of Spain", where separatist tensions are high in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
"I swear to carry out my duties loyally, safeguard and ensure the safeguarding of the constitution and respect the rights of citizens and the regions," the monarch proclaimed.
"I begin my reign with great excitement at the honour of taking the crown, conscious of the responsibility that brings with it, and with great hope for the future," he told lawmakers.
Seated alongside him on a dais in parliament were his wife, the new Queen Letizia, 41, in a simple white knee-length dress and white jacket, and their blonde, blue-eyed daughters eight-year-old Leonor, who is now heiress to the throne, and Sofia, seven.
Outside, as police helicopters hovered above, officers closed off city-centre avenues and snipers deployed on roofs in a 7,000-strong security operation for the royal festivities.
King Felipe leads a royal family tarnished by scandal after the 39-year reign of his 76-year-old father Juan Carlos, who signed his act of abdication with tears in his eyes at the Royal Palace the day before.
Now he must try to rally a people stricken by a 26 per cent jobless rate and strained by secessionist stirrings in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which wants an independence vote on November 9.
"It feels like the end of a cycle," said Mr Jose Antonio Gomez, who runs a soft drinks stall outside the old Royal Palace in central Madrid, where the new royals were to appear before the crowds on a balcony.
"The Spain team were a disaster and have to renovate," said Mr Gomez, after defending champions Spain crashed out of the World Cup in the first stage after a shock 2-0 loss to Chile.