MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s King Juan Carlos I hobbled out of a Madrid hospital on Wednesday and apologized for making an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana - a jaunt that has caused outrage in a country suffering from an economic crisis.
The 74-year-old monarch, who suffers from osteoarthritis, broke his hip in Botswana and was flown back to Spain for emergency replacement surgery on Saturday.
“I‘m much better. ... I‘m very sorry. I made a mistake and it won’t happen again,” the king told reporters outside his hospital room in Madrid’s San Jose hospital.
Spanish media have slammed the monarch for the expensive trip, which came to light only because of the accident.
Spain is struggling against a massive public deficit and soaring unemployment, with half of young people out of work.
News of the king’s trip came at a time when Spain’s political leaders face growing anger and the monarchy and its role have been in focus in recent weeks.
During a visit to Mexico on Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy singled out the king as a role model, saying the monarch had dedicated himself to his country for years.
“The king of Spain is the best ambassador for Spain, but also the stoutest defender of the community of Ibero-American countries in the whole world,” Rajoy told a news conference after meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The king’s elephant-hunting excursion also angered wildlife activists, with thousands flooding social media with calls for the king to relinquish his position as honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund.
The royal family was criticized in December when Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of the king’s youngest daughter Cristina, was charged in a fraud and embezzlement case.
A separate accident also drew attention to the royal family last week when Felipe Juan Froilan, the 13-year-old son of the king’s eldest daughter Infanta Elena, accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun during target practice outside a family home north of Madrid.
The king, who oversaw the country’s tense transition to democracy, won respect from many Spaniards in 1981 when he publicly condemned an attempted coup. He has remained very popular, though a poll in October showed that the Spanish people’s trust in the royal family was declining.
Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Will Dunham