NEW: King Juan Carlos apologized upon leaving the hospital
The king's hunting trip caused an uproar for its expense
Spain is in the throes of an economic crisis
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.
“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.
The trip was intended to be a private outing for the 74-year-old king, unknown to the media and most Spaniards, until he was rushed back to Madrid and underwent replacement surgery on his right hip.
In his brief apology, the king did not mention the hunting trip, but state television and other Spanish media reported that he was clearly referring to that.
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.
But after news emerged of the expensive hunting trip, with widespread Spanish media reports that it included the hunting of elephants, even normally-staunch political allies of the monarch said publicly that they considered the timing of the trip a mistake. Some called on him to apologize.
Earlier Wednesday, speculation was rife in Spanish media that he would do so upon leaving the hospital, where doctors said in a medical report that he is recovering well from the hip surgery.
The king said he will resume his responsibilities. His son, Crown Prince Felipe, has stood in for him at some events this week while he was in the hospital.
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.
Some critics also wondered how much public money was spent for security on the king’s private trip.
The criticism later included animal rights activists, as reports emerged that the king was hunting elephants. At least one photo, said to be from an earlier trip, showed the king, rifle in hand, standing in front of a dead elephant. It was widely published last weekend in Spanish media, which said it was taken from the website of an African safari outfitter, and that the photo was later removed from the company’s site.
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.
But last December, the royal household said Urdangarin would not take part in official ceremonies, which is a key role for members of the royal family. Urdangarin and his family were not present at Easter for the royal family’s traditional photo.
Also last December, the royal family publicly revealed its finances for the first time in an effort to boost public confidence and transparency.