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Royal romance gets Spain talking

Sannum has faced criticism in Spain  

MADRID, Spain -- Spaniards are expressing concern over the succession to the throne as rumours of an imminent engagement surround the Royal family.

Frequent sightings of Crown Prince Felipe, 33, and Norwegian fashion model Eva Sannum, 26, have triggered speculation that they may marry.

Although the prince has not made his intentions known, his frequent appearances with Sannum -- including a skiing trip in the Alps and a visit to India -- have led to some Spaniards expressing reservations about the relationship.

Monarchists and nobility warn such a marriage risks dragging the widely respected Spanish House of Bourbon into disrepute.

"I would consider as a grave error a wedding which would put us on a level with the English and which perhaps would make me consider the advantages of a republic," Jose Luis de Vilallonga, the official biographer of King Juan Carlos, wrote in the ABC daily.

Felipe, the Prince of Asturias, is the third child and only son of Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

Spaniards have followed the prince's love life with keen interest ever since he dated American Gigi Howard while in graduate school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He has since appeared with other girlfriends, but none have attracted the vocal criticism aimed at Sannum, whom he has reportedly been seeing since 1998.

Commentators have noted that Sannum -- the daughter of a divorced auto parts shop owner -- has not finished her university studies and is a Lutheran. They have also criticised her for appearing in lingerie advertisements and a photo showing her sunbathing topless.

Historian Carlos Seco Serrano questioned whether Sannum measured up to the line of Roman Catholic aristocracy who have married into the 301-year-old Spanish branch of the Bourbon dynasty.

"It would be inconceivable," Serrano wrote in ABC, "to see a youngster recommended by her 'perfect measurements' on a throne occupied with perfect dignity in the past century by Maria Christina of Austria, Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg -- and today in an exemplary manner by Sofia of Greece."

Others have rushed to the couple's defence, arguing the prince should be allowed to choose his bride like everyone else.

Although 60 percent of Spaniards surveyed in a recent poll said the prince should marry for love, many expressed concern over the succession.

Carmen Enriquez, a longtime royalty reporter for Spanish television, told the Associated Press: "Many feel that if the prince doesn't choose the right queen, it could threaten the survival of the monarchy."

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Spanish royal family

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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