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King criticised for elephant hunt

SPAIN'S king has come in for scathing criticism for going on an expensive elephant-hunting trip in Botswana amid the nation's deep financial woes.

Making matters worse, an accident on the trip sent King Juan Carlos (74) into surgery. Doctors say he is recovering well after a hip replacement.

His son, 44-year-old Prince Felipe, has been nominated to fill in for his father, who Spain's government relies on to patch up diplomatic disputes, boost international trade and serve as a high-profile liaison.


Tomas Gomez, Madrid's Socialist party leader, said the time had come for the head of state to choose between his public responsibilities "and an abdication that would allow him to enjoy a different lifestyle".

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 of a hunting trip to Botswana to kill an elephant usually comes in at ¤44,000, about twice the country's average annual salary.

Spain is currently perceived as the weakest link in the 17-nation eurozone, and many investors fear it could become the next country to seek an international bailout.

The accident happened on 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 on Saturday, and yesterday begun walking with crutches, said Angel Villamor, a spokesman for San Jose hospital, where the king is recovering.