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Snacks, no banquet, for frugal new Spanish king

By CIARAN GILES and BARRY HATTON

MADRID (AP) a¿¿ Crown Prince Felipe ascended to the Spanish throne at midnight Wednesday, but there weren't any ritzy official celebrations.

The economic crisis that has left a quarter of Spaniards out of work prompted Europe's newest king to be relatively frugal at his proclamation.

The crown prince's father, 76-year-old Juan Carlos, misjudged public anger at financial hardship when he went on an elephant-hunting safari in Africa. Felipe, 46, appears keen to show he's more in tune with his countrymen a¿¿ and avoid the mistakes of his abdicating predecessor.

The landmark occasion was perhaps most notable for what it didn't include: no state banquet, no foreign royals or heads of state, no ostentatious ceremonies or parades.

By royal standards, it was humble: reception guests were being served hot and cold tapas-style nibbles, to be eaten while standing. There was no champagne, just sparkling cava wine from Spain's Catalonia region.

"More than anything this is a message. What they want to say is: 'We're in a moment when sobriety in spending shows a certain sense of solidarity in a time of economic difficulty,'" Navarra University history professor Pablo Perez Lopez said.

Juan Carlos on Wednesday signed legislation, approved by Parliament earlier this month, setting out the legal framework for the handover. The retiring monarch, who underwent a hip replacement operation last November, used a walking cane and moved with difficulty during the televised signing ceremony.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy immediately ratified the law, which went into force at midnight in Spain (2200 GMT).

Felipe is to be formally proclaimed monarch and swear an oath at a ceremony with lawmakers in Parliament on Thursday. It will be a no-frills event, though the 18th-century Spanish crown and 17th-century scepter will be on display.

After a brief military parade, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia will take a drive through expected crowds along some of Madrid's most emblematic streets and monuments a¿¿ such as the Prado Museum and the Cibeles fountain.

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