Spanish king's privileges at risk after hunting gaffe

Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:04am EDT
 
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By Sarah Morris

MADRID (Reuters) - Hunting was once standard practice for European kings, but in crisis-era Spain, with unprecedented public debt and a quarter of his subjects unemployed, Juan Carlos I finds his privileges in the firing line after a big-game jaunt to Africa.

As the government struggles to control the national deficit and avert an international bailout, the 74-year-old king, once widely revered for his role in Spain's transition to democracy, apologized last week for the expensive elephant hunting trip in Botswana.

He had previously given speeches saying he lost sleep over the problem of youth unemployment - sky high at about 50 percent - and that politicians should lead by example in times of austerity.

The trip, though paid for by a businessman friend, was the final straw for recession-weary Spaniards already disgusted by allegations the king's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin had abused his position to embezzle money through a sports charity.

The royal household was also embarrassed earlier this month when the king's 13-year-old grandson Felipe Juan Froilan, son of the Infanta Elena, literally shot himself in the foot while using a gun below the legal age.

The incidents have sparked unprecedented criticism of the royals in a country where the press has traditionally treated the House of Bourbon with kid gloves, avoiding British-style reporting on their private lives, even when foreign magazines have run stories on the king's alleged lovers.

Left-wing party Izquierda Unida, which includes communists, renewed calls for Spain to become a republic, and the leader of the Madrid Socialists, Tomas Gomez, said Juan Carlos should think about handing over to his son Felipe.

"Nobody had ever before talked about abdication before," said Charles Powell, a history professor at CEU-San Pablo University in Madrid. "The demand for accountability has never existed before on this scale."   Continued...