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Spain's new king visits sensitive Catalonia region

Published on Jun 26, 2014 9:52 AM

GIRONA, Spain (AFP) - Just a week into his reign, Spain's King Felipe VI visits one of the country's most politically sensitive regions on Thursday: Catalonia, where an independence drive has raised tensions with Madrid.

Catalan leaders' plan for a referendum on independence from Spain has put them at odds with the national government, which insists that such a move is illegal. Now some are looking to King Felipe to help ease the row.

"All the new king can do to facilitate dialogue, especially given the intransigence of the national government, will be positive," said the Catalonia regional government's vice-president Joana Ortega. "But I insist we have to look for a solution where one should be found, in the political sphere."

The king, who speaks good Catalan, heads along with his glamorous ex-newsreader wife Queen Letizia to one of the region's most independence-minded towns, Girona, to preside at a royal prize-giving. Given the hostility of the pro-independence movement to the national institutions, it is seen as a trial of fire for King Felipe, who was sworn in as successor to his father Juan Carlos on June 19.

Spain's King Felipe smiles as he poses before his meeting with Parliament Chairman Jesus Posada at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, June 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
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