Spain king to skip heir Felipe's swearing-in

MADRID (AFP) - Spain's King Juan Carlos will skip the swearing-in of his son Felipe as his successor on June 19 so as not to grab attention from him, the palace said on Thursday.

Dogged over recent years by scandals and health problems, Juan Carlos is abdicating in favour of his more popular son, after a historic four-decade reign.

Prince Felipe, 46, will be sworn in by parliament accompanied by his wife Letizia, their two daughters Leonor, eight, and Sofia, seven, and his mother Queen Sofia, a palace spokesman said.

"King Juan Carlos will not attend, so as to give more prominence to the new king," the spokesman said.

He added that the king was expected to join Pirnce Felipe afterwards on the balcony of the royal palace to wave to the crowds.

Prince Felipe's eldest sister Elena and his aunts Pilar and Margarita will attend the swearing-in at the lower house of parliament, he added. But the king's youngest daughter Cristina was not on the list. She has been caught up in a corruption scandal centred on her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin.

After being sworn in at the Congress in central Madrid, Felipe and Letizia will then be driven to the old royal palace in the west of the capital for a reception, the royal spokesman said.

Authorities announced tight security measures for the swearing-in.

The interior ministry said in a statement it had raised its terrorism alert level from grade two to three, out of four, as a "proportionate response" to the importance of the occasion.

As well as the royals, the ceremony will gather Spain's full government, deputies and senators, but no foreign dignitaries.

The speaker of the house, Jesus Posada, said the swearing-in was expected to happen around 10:30 am local time on June 19.

Prince Felipe will take hold of the crown and sceptre but unlike for Juan Carlos's own swearing-in on Nov 22, 1975, there will be no religious ceremony.

The ceremony in parliament will be followed by a military parade outside the lower house of Congress, Mr Posada said.

The new monarchs will be driven by car through the avenues of central Madrid to the palace where they are expected to wave from the balcony, the royal spokesman added.

Under the heightened terrorism alert, special security units will be tasked with guarding crowded areas and key installations.

The air force will join in by surveying the skies over Madrid, the ministry added.

It planned an "exhaustive security deployment" including thousands of regular police as well as civil guards, Spain's military police.

Prince Felipe is to take the crown following his increasingly unpopular father Juan Carlos's announcement on June 2 that he is abdicating as king after a historic four-decade reign.

The tall former Olympic yachtsman ascends to the throne as Spain struggles with a 26-per cent jobless rate, a push for independence in the Catalonia region and noisy protests by those who want a republic.

Spain's main political forces, the ruling Popular Party and opposition Socialists, back Prince Felipe's succession however. They have sped the abdication bill through the lower house parliament and it is due to be passed by the Senate on June 17.