Asia Crisis

Spanish king visits troops in Afghanistan

Spain's King Juan Carlos waves to the press in Paris December 12, 2007. Juan Carlos paid a surprise New Year's Eve visit to Spanish troops based in Afghanistan on Monday. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s King Juan Carlos paid a surprise New Year’s Eve visit to Spanish troops based in Afghanistan on Monday.

The monarch, who will turn 70 on Saturday, posed with soldiers in his military uniform and was set to stay for lunch at the base in Herat in western Afghanistan, which he visited along with Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso, a spokeswoman for the royal household said.

The king, a popular figure in Spain, spoke by radio from the base to troops who were elsewhere in the country.

“I only want to wish you all the best for the New Year and I’m sorry I can’t greet you,” said Juan Carlos, who was due to return to Spain after his meal.

The king, who amused many of his countrymen in November by telling Venezuela’s loquacious President Hugo Chavez to “shut up” at a summit in South America, also paid a similar visit to Spanish troops in Bosnia around the date of his 60th birthday.

Spain has around 700 troops based in Afghanistan, where at least 23 have been killed.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo