King Juan Carlos of Spain has come under fire for hunting elephants in Botswana as his country is being sucked back into the eurozone’s financial crisis and one in two youngsters are jobless.
Spanish media have slammed King Juan Carlos, 74, for the reported 32,000 Euros ($43,000) cost of the trip – and have published angry editorials alongside pictures of a previous “Big Game” hunting expedition.
They are also angry at a “lack of transparency” from the Royal Household, three months after it promised to disclose its income following a corruption probe linked to his son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin.
It comes as fears rise that Spain will become the latest member of the eurozone to beg for a financial bailout – as its 10-year yield’s creep perilously close to the 7% level which saw Ireland, Portugal and Greece receiving a handout.
The royal holiday last week would have remained secret if the king had not tripped on a step, fractured his hip and had to be flown back urgently to Madrid to undergo hip replacement surgery on Saturday morning.
King Juan Carlos called on Spanish leaders in his annual Christmas message to set a good example. More recently, he said there were times when he could not sleep because of concern about Spain’s youth unemployment problem.
Last week he cancelled his regular weekly meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy because he had already left for Botswana, several newspapers said.
El Mundo newspaper said in an editorial: “It was an irresponsible trip, taken at the worst possible moment.
“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.”
Most Spanish dailies and TV channels yesterday showed a picture of the king in front of a dead elephant, taken on a similar trip to Botswana in 2006.
The picture drew many internet and Twitter comments, some linking it to a Russian hunting trip in 2006 when the king was reported to have killed a bear which had been made drunk.
News of the King Juan Carlos’ latest trip came at a time when Spain’s political leaders face growing social anger.
Support for Mariano Rajoy fell sharply this month after his government announced deep spending cuts and health and education reforms to fight the sovereign debt crisis, an opinion poll showed yesterday.
ABC newspaper said it was Juan Carlos’ “bitterest year” since he came to the throne and became head of state shortly after the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco.
King Juan Carlos, who oversaw the country’s tense transition to democracy, won respect from many Spaniards in 1981 when he publicly condemned an attempted coup.
He has remained very popular, though a poll in October showed that the Spanish people’s trust in the royal family was declining.
The monarchy was also criticized in December when Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of the King’s youngest daughter Cristina, was charged in a fraud and embezzlement case.
A separate accident also drew media attention to the royal family on Monday, when Felipe Juan Froilan, the 13-year-old son of the king’s eldest daughter Infanta Elena, accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun during target practice outside a family home north of Madrid.
The incident reminded older Spaniards of a more serious royal shooting accident in 1956 when King Juan Carlos’ 14-year-old brother, Alfonso, died at the royal family’s home.
The palace said at the time that Alfonso was killed by a bullet in the head when a revolver he was cleaning went off accidentally. But historians have questioned the official version of events.
King Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, has had at least five hunting and skiing accidents in the past, some requiring surgery. He also had a lung operation in 2010 and knee and foot surgery in 2011.
Mariano Rajoy, who visited the king on Sunday, said he would resume his duties gradually and would attend their weekly meeting next Friday.
He said: “I saw him being very upbeat. He will recover very soon and resume his usual duties.”
Physicians caring for the king of Spain say he is likely to be recuperating for the next six weeks, as he delegates his duties as head of state to his son, Prince Felipe, while he recuperates.
The accident occurred early on Friday while the king was on safari in the Okavango area of Botswana. He was immediately flown home by private jet.
Angel Villamor, a spokesman for the medical team caring for him, said he is recovering well.