Juan Carlos guided Spain to democracy, recent years clouded by graft scandal

Mon Jun 2, 2014 8:13am EDT
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MADRID (Reuters) - King Juan Carlos, who announced plans to abdicate on Monday, helped guide Spain to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, but his 40-year reign was clouded at its end by a graft scandal and accusations he was out of touch with the economic suffering of his people.

The reign of Juan Carlos, 76, is best known for a television broadcast he made in the early hours of February 24, 1981 condemning a revolt by right-wing military officers aggrieved by democratic reforms. Television footage of the leader of the rebels firing his revolver in parliament to cow deputies had been shown across the world.

"The crown, symbol of the permanence and unity of the motherland, cannot tolerate any actions or attitudes by persons who intend to interrupt the democratic process by force," he said to a nation on tenterhooks the night of the coup attempt.

Despite suspicions among some on the left that he had originally encouraged the attempted putsch, Juan Carlos went on to earn the respect of notable, long-standing republicans.

"If the king had not been there on February 23 the military coup would have triumphed - of that I have no doubt," veteran Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo, who spent about 40 years in exile during Franco's reign, told Reuters in 2001.

As a monarch, Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sophia, came across as warm and approachable, in contrast to more distant British royals. The king is a passionate sailor and also enjoyed bear hunting, skiing and motorbiking.

But Spanish media traditionally treated the royal family with a deference that would be the envy of British counterparts, eschewing more controversial aspects of his life.

A graft scandal had eroded the king's popularity in recent years. His daughter Princess Cristina and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are under investigation over alleged embezzlement of 6 million euros in public funds through his charity.

He himself faced accusations of being out of touch when caught on a lavish privately-funded elephant-hunting trip while Spaniards at home were suffering deep and sustained economic recession and high unemployment.   Continued...