Bloomberg News

Spanish King Criticized for Elephant Hunting as Crisis Deepens

April 16, 2012

Spain’s King Juan Carlos faced unprecedented criticism from politicians and newspapers after reports he went elephant hunting in Botswana as his country fights to avoid becoming the next victim of the debt crisis.

“In the current climate, there are things that citizens don’t understand and this is one of them,” Patxi Lopez, president of the Basque Country and a leading member of the opposition Socialist party, said in an interview with Cadena Ser today. To apologize “wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said.

The king, 74, broke his hip while on a private trip to Botswana, the palace said in a statement on its website on April 14. Spanish newspapers including El Mundo and El Pais reported that he was hunting elephants, and printed pictures of him posing with a gun in front of an elephant slumped against a tree taken during a similar outing in 2006. The palace declined to comment today on what the monarch was doing in Botswana.

The king came to the throne after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and Spaniards’ support for his role overseeing the transition to democracy and facing down an attempted coup has traditionally shielded him from criticism by politicians or the media.

That may be changing as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government strives to prevent the nation from needing an international bailout, forcing Spaniards to confront a 24 percent unemployment rate and the deepest budget cuts in at least three decades.

‘Inopportune Moment’

El Mundo, a newspaper that tends to back Rajoy’s ruling People’s Party, said in a full-page editorial yesterday that the king’s trip was “irresponsible,” and taken “at the most inopportune moment.” The trip may end up pushing him to abdicate, the newspaper 20 Minutos said today. Tomas Gomez, the leader of the Socialists in Madrid, said yesterday the king should choose between serving Spaniards and abdicating.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the Socialists’ leader, declined to criticize the king publicly. While the Socialist party was traditionally republican, it backed the monarchy as part of the transition to democracy.

“If I have something to say to the king I will say it, and believe me, I’m going to say it to him,” Rubalcaba, 60, said in an interview with state broadcaster TVE. “I know he will listen.”

The reports about the hunting trip come as the king’s son- in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, is on trial in a corruption case. Separately, the king’s grandson was hospitalized last week for shooting himself in the foot in a hunting accident, Efe newswire reported.

Rajoy, whose popularity is suffering amid austerity measures, hasn’t commented on the trip and plans to meet the monarch on April 20, his office said on its website. Support for the ruling PP fell to 38 percent from 46 percent last month as Rajoy’s approval rating was 32 percent, according to a poll published by El Pais yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in Madrid at erossthomas@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net


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