Hunting accident adds to Spain royals' annus horribilis

Spain's King Juan Carlos. Photo / AP
Spain's King Juan Carlos. Photo / AP

With a series of accidents plaguing an ageing king, a corruption scandal and now an outcry against a Botswana hunting trip, 2012 is building up to be an annus horribilis for Spain's monarchy.

King Juan Carlos, 74, was repatriated for an emergency operation after breaking his right hip bone Friday during a trip to Botswana.

While the palace would only say that it was a private visit, Spanish media have reported that the king was hunting big game in the southern African state, an activity permitted in Botswana for a fee of between 7,000 and 30,000 euros.

A 2006 photo of Juan Carlos with a rifle in hand posing before an elephant carcass was splashed across the front pages of several Spanish dailies Sunday, tarnishing the reputation of the king, who has been mostly appreciated by his people for his role in bringing about the country's transition to democracy.

But with the country undergoing unprecedented budget cuts amid a public debt crisis and as a record 4.75 million people declared themselves unemployed, news of the hunt has gone down badly.

"From what we have gathered, it was an irresponsible trip, taken at the most inopportune time," fumed the centre-right daily El Mundo.

"The spectacle of a monarch hunting elephants in Africa while the economic crisis in our country causes so many problems for the Spanish (conveys) an image of indifference and frivolity," it said.

The accident also came just shortly after a series of embarrassing events for the royal household.

On Tuesday, the eldest grandson of the king, Felipe Juan Froilan Marichalar Bourbon, 13, shot himself in the right foot while learning to use a shotgun.

The use of firearms is banned for under-14s in Spain, and the boy's father, an aristocrat and banker, could be fined for allowing him to use the gun. Froilan turns 14 on July 17.

In February, the king's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, was summoned to court over a massive corruption scandal that had engulfed the royal household for weeks.

The 44-year-old former Olympic handball player, who acquired the title of Duke of Palma when he wed the king's youngest daughter Cristina in 1997, is suspected of embezzling public money paid to a non-profit institution under his control.

The scandal forced Juan Carlos to make a stern speech in his annual Christmas message, saying that "absolutely all people with public responsibilities, have a duty to observe appropriate conduct".

The royal household also sought to demonstrate its transparency by publishing its accounts - including salaries - for the first time.

But for the centre-left El Pais newspaper, there was still too much opacity surrounding the monarch's private trips.

It chided the palace for failing to inform "the government, nor parliament, nor the public" of the king's private travel abroad.

The conservative and monarchist newspaper ABC headlined its Sunday report "the bitterest year" for the king since his accession in 1975.

Saturday's operation was also the fourth in two years for Juan Carlos. He underwent surgery in May 2010 to remove a benign lung tumour, and in 2011 was fitted with an artificial right knee. In September, he had to be operated on to repair a torn Achilles tendon.

In November, the king also tried, without much success, to hide behind sunglasses a black eye inflicted by a doorknob.

The accidents underlined the king's health problems, reminding the Spanish public that the transfer of power to Felipe, the crown prince, may take place sooner than expected.


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