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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Spain’s King Juan Carlos Urges Unity Amid Economic Woes

MADRID – King Juan Carlos said his countrymen must act with unity, responsibility and solidarity as Spain grapples with high unemployment and a large budget deficit and also called for determination in the struggle against terrorism.

In his traditional Christmas message, aired nationwide Friday on radio and television, the monarch said 2010 has been “a difficult and complex year marked by an economic crisis – in Spain and other countries – that has been longer and more intense than expected.”

In Spain’s case, the king said, the economic struggles “have exposed structural imbalances and deficiencies that we must work together to correct quickly and effectively.”

“What’s most painful is that the crisis has affected so many men and women who have suffered job losses – either personally or within their families. The unemployed are the focus of our concerns; they’re an unavoidable priority,” he said.

The 72-year-old king added that Spanish society “especially cannot allow so many young people to go more time without work.”

“The crisis has forced our public authorities and institutions at all levels to take important decisions,” the king said, adding that it is “necessary to forge ahead with conviction, win the battle against unemployment with determination, perseverance and resolution and to make improvements in terms of productivity and competitiveness, education and innovation.”

Juan Carlos was referring to recent moves by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government aimed at boosting investment and job creation and calming fears that Spain may require an Ireland- or Greece-style bailout by the European Union and the IMF.

In May, the government pushed an austerity plan through Parliament that included a pay cut for public employees and a suspension of cost-of-living adjustments for most pensioners.

A bill to overhaul Spain’s pension system is due to be sent to Parliament early next year, while other moves aimed at reducing the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2013 from last year’s level of more than 11 percent include a hike in the tobacco tax and a plan to partially privatize the company that manages Spain’s airports.

The king stressed the need to reorient Spain’s economy with an eye on the future while “maintaining social protection and cohesion” and said the country must “modernize” its productive model.

Alluding to an unemployment rate of around 20 percent, the highest in the European Union, and a gross domestic product that stood still in the third quarter, the monarch also urged Spaniards to “banish despondency, lift up your heads, unite your efforts and continue the struggle, aware of what we are, of what we have and what we can still achieve.”

“These new times require a great commitment by all of you,” he said, stressing unity, responsibility and solidarity as necessary elements “for emerging from the crisis and ensuring new horizons of prosperity and well-being.”

“These are the best allies for overcoming difficulties and fueling our hopes,” he added.

The effects of the global recession were aggravated in Spain by the collapse of a long construction and property boom that made the country’s economy the envy of most of Madrid’s partners in the European Union.

Separately, the king also urged “determination in ending the scourge” of terrorism and called on Spaniards to “honor and show affection and solidarity with the victims of terrorist violence and their families.”

Basque terrorist group ETA has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in its campaign for an independent Basque nation in parts of northern Spain and southwestern France, while radical Muslims were responsible for Spain’s worst-ever terrorist incident: the March 11, 2004, bombings on four Madrid commuter trains that left nearly 200 dead and 1,800 injured.

Referring to the “excluded and marginalized,” the king stressed the importance of continuing to offer them “maximum attention” and urged his compatriots to continue working “for equality of opportunities and support for the disabled.”

“Let’s redouble our efforts to combat drugs and end unacceptable gender-related violence. And of course, let’s care for our natural environment.”

At the conclusion of his speech, the monarch reiterated his full confidence in Spain and its citizens as they strive to “leave our children and grandchildren with an even better country, with greater prosperity in every town, city and autonomous community.”

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from me and my family to all Spaniards and the numerous foreigners who live among us,” Juan Carlos said.

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