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WWF ousts Spanish king as honorary president over Botswana hunting trip

By Faith Karimi, CNN
July 22, 2012 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • King Juan Carlos' hunting trip sparks an outcry over its extravagance
  • Animal rights activists join the firestorm after reports emerge that he was hunting elephants
  • Spain is undergoing an economic crisis
  • "I am very sorry. I made a mistake and it won't happen again," the king says

(CNN) -- The conservation group World Wildlife Fund ousted Spain's King Juan Carlos as its honorary president after his Botswana hunting trip sparked an outcry for its extravagance during an economic crisis.

The king's private visit came to light this year when he was rushed back to Madrid to undergo hip surgery after falling during the trip.

A firestorm ensued, forcing the 74-year-old king to apologize in April.

"I am very sorry. I made a mistake and it won't happen again," the king said on Spanish state television as he left the hospital.

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The Spanish chapter of the WWF voted Saturday to abolish the honorary post, which the king has held since 1968.

"Although not illegal, the hunting was widely viewed as incompatible with the King's position at the head of WWF-Spain," the group said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from the royal palace.

Spaniards hold the king in high regard for his service to the nation and his defense of democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The criticism of the trip initially focused on the expensive safari amid the nation's 23% unemployment rate and austerity measures to make up for budget shortfalls. Some critics also wondered how much public money was spent for security during the king's private trip.

As the economic crisis was unraveling, the king expressed concern over the impact on Spaniards and urged them to come together to get through the tough times.

The royal household has a budget of 8.26 million euros ($10.8 million) this year -- 2% less than last year -- and has announced cuts in salaries of some of its staffers.

The safari was the latest in a series of scandals for the royal family this year.

In April, the king's 13-year-old grandson shot himself in the foot with a shotgun during target practice with his father. The legal age in Spain to handle firearms, even when accompanied by an adult, is 14.

And the king's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin is a suspect in a financial fraud scandal in which public funds earmarked for his foundation allegedly were diverted for private use. He denies the charges.

CNN's Al Goodman contributed to this report

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