Spain’s King Juan Carlos I has apologised for going elephant hunting in Botswana while his country was being sucked back into the eurozone’s financial crisis
The king, 74, who suffers from osteoarthritis, hobbled out of Madrid’s San Jose hospital on Wednesday after he underwent treatment for a broken hip.
“I’m much better. … I’m very sorry. I made a mistake and it won’t happen again,” the king told reporters outside his hospital room.
He was injured during the hunting trip, when he tripped on a step and broke his hip, which led to him being flown back urgently to Madrid to undergo hip replacement surgery on Saturday.
Spanish media have slammed the monarch for the expensive trip, which came to light only because of the accident, and which caused outrage in a country where one out of two young Spaniards is unemployed.
“Awful. I think what the king did is awful,” Angelica Diaz, a 70-year-old Madrid resident, said on Sunday. “Because of the lack of solidarity with people here who are going hungry. What he did is wrong. He has to show more humanity.”
Spain is struggling with 23 per cent unemployment – the highest in the 17-nation eurozone – which soars to nearly 50 per cent for young workers.
Juan Carlos called on Spanish leaders in his annual Christmas message to set a good example and, more recently, he said there were times when he could not sleep because of concern about Spain’s youth unemployment problem.
Spanish media on Sunday pointed to the cost of the hunting trip and criticised the lack of transparency of the Royal Household, three months after it promised to disclose its income following a corruption probe linked to the king’s son-in-law.
“It was an irresponsible trip, taken at the worst possible moment,” the daily El Mundo said in an editorial on Sunday. “The image of a monarch hunting elephants in Africa at a time when the economic crisis in our country creates so many problems for the Spanish people is a very poor example.”
Juan Carlos should “admit his mistake and learn from what happened,” the paper said.
Juan Carlos’ family has also been in the news lately.
The king’s son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin is a suspect in a corruption case, accused of using his position to embezzle several million euros in public contracts through a not-for-profit foundation he ran.
Over Easter, the king’s 13-year-old grandson shot himself in the foot with a shotgun, even though by law in Spain you must be 14 to handle a gun. The boy’s father could face a fine.
News of the king’s trip came at a time when Spain’s political leaders face growing anger and the monarchy and its
role have been in focus in recent weeks.
During a visit to Mexico on Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy singled out the king as a role model,
saying the monarch had dedicated himself to his country for years.
“The king of Spain is the best ambassador for Spain, but also the stoutest defender of the community of Ibero-American
countries in the whole world,” Rajoy told a news conference after meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The king’s elephant-hunting excursion also angered wildlife activists, with thousands flooding social media with calls for
the king to relinquish his position as honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund.