Spain’s King Juan Carlos apologizes over elephant hunt

Added by on April 18, 2012

“I am very sorry. I made a mistake. It will not happen again,” Spain’s King Juan Carlos told journalists on Wednesday _ in an unprecedented apology to the nation.

The 74-year-old monarch was asking forgiveness for going elephant-hunting in Africa while his country was in the grip of a deep economic crisis.

The directness of the apology, which Spanish media described as being highly unusual among European royalty, reflected the outrage sparked by the king’s hunting trip.

His gesture was welcomed by the main political parties, but it was unclear whether it would be sufficient to restore the image of the royal family, which is already under a cloud from several other recent scandals.

Juan Carlos made his apology on leaving hospital, where he had been recovering from a hip injury suffered in a fall during the safari in Botswana.

Not only had the king gone on a luxury holiday _ reportedly paid for by a Saudi businessman _ while his subjects were struggling with a recession and a 23-percent unemployment rate, but he also hunted endangered animals (although Botswana allows elephant hunts) despite being honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

It was not clear whether the king had informed the government of his travels.

The amount of criticism sparked by the trip was unusual in Spain, where Catalan and Basque separatists occasionally slam the monarchy, but where the royal family still enjoys mainstream popularity.

That esteem is based largely on Juan Carlos’ personal contribution in consolidating democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, rather than on the strength of the institution of the monarch in a country with a robust republican tradition.

Most political parties criticized the king for the hunting expedition. Critics accused him of acting unethically, frivolity and even said Spain should question the usefulness of the monarchy.

Several political parties had urged the king to apologize _ and he did so even more emphatically than had been expected. “Never has any political authority in Spain apologized as clearly,” the daily El Pais said.

Juan Carlos was apparently trying to prevent further damage to reputation of the royal family, which has already come under criticism on several accounts.

Last week, the king’s grandson, Felipe Juan Froilan, accidentally shot himself in the foot while practicing shooting with his father, Jaime de Marichalar.

The aristocrat now faces a fine for allowing the 13-year-old to use a gun.

Froilan’s accident reminded Spaniards of the sad events in 1956, when Juan Carlos unintentionally shot his 14-year-old brother Alfonso to death when handling a gun.

The king’s “anachronistic” penchant for hunting and arms “is always causing him problems,” philosopher Jesus Mosterin complained.

Meanwhile, the monarchy had been rocked for months by a corruption scandal involving Inaki Urdangarin, husband of Princess Cristina. The former Olympic handball player is under a judicial investigation on suspicion of diverting millions of euros in public funds to his companies.

The palace has distanced itself from Urdangarin, but the judge in charge of the investigation now has said he will look into emails that could eventually implicate the king himself.

The main political parties welcomed Juan Carlos’ apology for the hunting trip. The monarchy was “tuned to what the Spanish people expects and needs from it,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party said in a statement.

The main opposition Socialists said the king had “done well in apologizing.”

But it also looked like it might not be so easy to repair the damage.

“We are not talking about mischief that is resolved by apologizing. We are talking about an institutional problem, a crisis,” the Catalan republican party ERC said.