Spain's King Juan Carlos leaves the hospital after being discharged in Madrid
Spanish King Juan Carlos apologized Wednesday for his African safari, which provoked outrage among Spaniards in the midst of an economic crisis.
The king fell in his bungalow in Botswana in the early morning last Friday and suffered a broken hip. He was taken back to Spain the same day, and he underwent hip replacement surgery on Saturday.
"I am very sorry," he said in a televised comment as he emerged from a Madrid hospital on crutches. "I made a mistake and it won't happen again,"
The 74-year-old monarch was in Botswana hunting elephants at the time of his accident.
The normally deferential Spanish press was unusually critical of the king when news of his African excursion broke. Multiple news outlets published an earlier photo of the king posing with a dead elephant, gun in hand.
"The sight of a monarch hunting elephants in Africa when the economic crisis in our country is causing so many problems for Spaniards does not set a good example," the newspaper El Mundo editorialized. It called the trip "irresponsible" and taken "at the worst possible time."
The newspaper also reported the king did not inform Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of his travel plans, adding, "the prime minister must know at all times where the head of state is," the Associated Press reports.
The king's lavish hunting vacation did not amuse many Spaniards, 23 percent of whom are unemployed. The center-right government has also cut back on public spending in efforts to reduce the country's deficit.
Some observers noted there has been no such royal apology in Spanish history.
"This is something totally new," Antonio Torres del Moral, a scholar of Spain's royalty at Madrid's UNED university, told the AFP.
"To my knowledge, never in our history has there been an episode where the king apologizes for his behavior," he said.
Animal rights groups also expressed indignation towards King Juan Carlos for hunting elephants.
An online petition calling for the king to give up his honorary presidency of Spain's branch of the World Wildlife Fund has gained almost 85,000 signatures at the time of his apology.
The heads of Spain's main political parties, the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, have not commented on the events.
But Tomas Gomez, Socialist leader in Madrid, said the king must make a choice between his "public responsibilities, or an abdication," the BBC reports.
King Juan Carlos is largely admired in Spain for his role in the country's return to democracy in 1975 after four decades of Francisco Franco's dictatorial rule.
The king's hunting trip is also the latest in a string of embarrassments for the Spanish royal family.
The king's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, has been implicated in a scandal surrounding the misuse of public funds. In another bout of unwanted attention, the king's grandson, 13-year-old Felipe Juan Froilan, accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun over Easter holiday; Spanish law requires one to be 14 years old to handle a gun.
Doctors assured that the king has made a "very satisfactory" recovery following his operation, and is now mobile on his own.
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