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King Juan Carlos called on Spaniards to unite against an economic crisis of previously unimagined intensity in a Christmas Eve message Monday that took clear aim at Catalonia's bid for nationhood.
The 74-year-old monarch, who weathered a tough year himself after shattering his hip on a luxury elephant-hunting holiday, said Spain was suffering one of the deepest crises of its modern history.
"The serious economic crisis we have been going through for some years has reached an intensity, breadth and persistence that no-one had imagined," he said in his annual address to the nation.
Spaniards, especially the young, were insecure and despondent over their finances, lack of work and uncertain futures, he said.
"We cannot ignore that there is pessimism, and that its effects are felt in the social climate we are living in," the king said, after a year of mass street demonstrations and two general strikes.
Austerity and economic growth should be compatible, the head of state said, with today's sacrifices guaranteeing tomorrow's welfare.
But of all the measures to combat the crisis, "the main stimulus that will get us out of this crisis is called confidence," he said.
Juan Carlos urged a return to politics that "instead of provoking confrontation, out of a respect for diversity brings together our common parts to combine our strengths, not to divide them".
He spoke hours after Catalan president Artur Mas was sworn in for a new four-year term, promising to seek a referendum in 2014 on "self-determination" for the northeastern region despite fierce opposition from Madrid, which says that the step would flout the Spanish constitution.
Juan Carlos called on Spanish politicians to forego short-term ambitions for the greater good and to "open new doors to hope", alluding to the creation of democracy after the death in 1975 of General Francisco Franco.
Urging mutual respect, he called for the promotion of values such as "the recognition of our plurality and the protection of the different languages, cultures and institutions of Spain.
"It is time for us to look ahead and do what we can to close the open wounds. It will be a new success of us all, citizens and institutions, based on respect for the law and democratic means."
The king, who remains widely respected for his role in steering the country to democracy after Franco, emerged from hospital three weeks ago after having his left hip replaced.
He had undergone two operations in April on his other hip which he broke during an elephant hunting trip to Botswana, which provoked a public uproar and forced him into an unprecedented apology.
The royal family's reputation also took a hit this year because of corruption charges against the king's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin who is suspected of embezzling public money paid to a non-profit institution under his control.
© 2012 AFP
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