Spain's king fractures hip during elephant hunt

Spain's King Juan Carlos waits before a meeting at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid on July 19, 2011.
AP

(CBS/AP) MADRID - Spain's King Juan Carlos is recovering from hip replacement surgery after suffering a fall during an expensive elephant hunt in Botswana.

Doctors said Sunday that he was recovering well but would not be able to resume full duties for more than a month. The 74-year-old monarch came under scathing criticism for going on the African trip amid the nation's deep financial woes.

Pictures: The Spanish royal family

Spanish newspapers were filled with accounts of how hunting trips to Botswana, where Juan Carlos fell, cost more than most Spaniards earn in a year. El Pais, Spain's leading newspaper, said the cost to arrange a hunting trip in Botswana to kill an elephant usually comes in at 44,000 euros ($57,850), about twice the country's average annual salary.

Spain is also struggling with 23 percent unemployment - the highest in the 17-nation eurozone - which soars to nearly 50 percent for young workers.

The accident happened Friday while the king was on safari in Botswana's northern Okavango region and he was immediately flown home by private jet. Juan Carlos had a hip replacement early Saturday, and by Sunday had begun walking with crutches, said Angel Villamor, a spokesman for San Jose hospital, where the king is recovering.

The newspaper El Mundo, which usually supports Spain's royalty, reported the king had been hunting elephants for four days in Botswana before he tripped and fell before dawn Friday at the chalet where he was staying.

Citing royal spokesman Rafael Spottorno, El Mundo said the king had not told Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government of his trip abroad until after the accident.

"The prime minister must know at all times where the head of state is," El Mundo said in an editorial.

The royal family has been under close media scrutiny in recent months due to a judicial probe into whether Princess Cristina's husband, Inaki Urdangarin, used his position to secure lucrative deals for a nonprofit foundation he ran, then fraudulently diverted some of the money for personal benefit.

This is not the first time the aging monarch's love of hunting has caused concern. In October 2006, a Russian governor launched an inquiry into reports that Juan Carlos had shot and killed a bear while on holiday near Moscow.

Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, governor of the Vologda region northeast of Moscow, had reportedly received a letter from the region's deputy hunting chief, Sergei Starostin, claiming a bear had been fed honey mixed with vodka before being released near where the king was to hunt.

Spain's royals have experienced their share of gun-related tragedies, most recently on April 9 when the king's 13-year-old grandson, Felipe Juan Froilan, accidentally shot his foot during target practice at a family estate.

It is illegal in Spain for children under 14 to possess or discharge firearms, so the incident could land the boy's father with a 6,000 euro ($7,900) fine.

The most serious shooting incident occurred in 1956 when Juan Carlos accidentally shot and killed his 14-year-old brother while handling a gun during a school vacation visit to his exiled father's home in Estoril, Portugal.

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