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Spain's next king speaks of unity in first speech

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June 4, 2014: Historian Capuchino,Tarsicio de Azcona, center, receives the Prince's Viana Award, from Spain's Prince Felipe at the Monastery of Leyre, 40 miles from Pamplona, northern Spain. (AP)

Crown Prince Felipe said Wednesday he wants to promote Spain as a "united and diverse" nation when he takes over as king of the country struggling with 25 percent unemployment and Catalonian secessionist fervor.

Felipe spoke publicly for the first time since being tapped to become king and was received by a standing ovation from sympathizers in an ancient monastery church in northeastern Spain.

He was there to award a cultural prize to a 90-year-old Franciscan friar-historian. His wife Princess Letizia, a glamorous former television journalist dubbed the nation's first "Middle Class Queen" by Spanish media, also attended.

The prince didn't specifically mention Spain's economic difficulties or the drive in the northeastern region Catalonia for a secession vote in November, but said the country is going through "difficult times" that require Spaniards to put "the common good in front of special interests."

The crown prince will become King Felipe VI as early as June 18 following Monday's announcement by King Juan Carlos that he will abdicate because his son is ready for the job and because the country needs new royal blood to lead it.

Felipe, 46, has managed to avoid being tarnished by scandals that have hurt the popularity of his 76-year-old father.

Juan Carlos is widely respected for leading Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy and staring down a 1981 coup attempt. But his reputation took a big blow following a secret 2012 elephant hunting trip to Botswana at the height of Spain's financial crisis.

The trip became public after Juan Carlos fell and broke his hip, forcing him to take a private jet back to Spain for treatment.

The king's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, is being investigated on suspicion of embezzling large amounts in public contracts.

Juan Carlos' youngest daughter, Princess Cristina, was forced to testify this year in the fraud and money-laundering case targeting her husband, an Olympic handball medalist turned businessman.