MADRID (AP) â¿¿ In an unprecedented act of royal contrition, Spain's king apologized Wednesday for having gone elephant-hunting in Africa while everyday people endure a severe economic crisis.
"I am very sorry. I made a mistake. It won't happen again," King Juan Carlos said, trying to placate a rare wave of outrage against him.
Looking sheepish and using crutches to walk, he spoke as he left a Madrid hospital where he had undergone surgery after breaking his hip in a fall during the hunting trip to Botswana.
The 74-year-old monarch had come under scathing criticism this week after he went on the expensive safari as both Spain and its citizens struggled amid an economic crisis that has worsened by the day.
The trip came to light when the king fell and had to be rushed back to Spain Friday.
A royal palace official denied news accounts that the monarch left the country without telling the government. The official said that on April 2, in a routine weekly meeting with the prime minister, the king told him that the following Monday he would be in Botswana.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Tuesday that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy always knows where the head of state is.
The palace official said the king made the trip as a guest of unnamed hosts â¿¿ so no taxpayer money was spent. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with royal palace policy.
Many Spaniards were dumbfounded that the king could make such an opulent journey â¿¿ and, to boot, one to hunt elephants even though he is honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund â¿¿ while everyday people brave a 23 percent unemployment rate, a shrinking economy and fears that the country will be the next after Greece, Ireland and Portugal to need a bailout.