Naked protest as Spanish king undergoes hip operation

25th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

Spain's 75-year-old King Juan Carlos underwent a successful hip-replacement operation, the palace said Tuesday, his eighth operation in just three years, but this time with the spectacle of a naked protester outside his Madrid hospital.

Surgeons operated to give the monarch a new left hip after the previous artificial joint fitted last November became infected and painful, making it hard to walk and adding to speculation -- denied by the palace -- of a possible health-related abdication.

"His majesty's operation concludes successfully," the royal household said in a text message sent to journalists about two and a half hours after announcing the start of the surgery, led by US-based hip specialist Miguel Cabanela at the private Quiron Hospital in the western suburbs of Madrid.

"I am very well," the king told reporters as he waved from his car window on arrival at the hospital.

Less than an hour before the royal surgery, a stark naked man decrying "secret CIA crimes" broke through a line of journalists waiting outside the hospital.

The man, who identified himself as 38-year-old Carlos Diaz Fernandez, was quickly detained by police and driven away.

Queen Sofia was just entering the hospital at the time but it was unclear whether she saw the naked protest, images of which were broadcast on public television.

Juan Carlos is widely respected for his role in Spain's transition to democracy after the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 but his image has suffered in particular because of a corruption scandal implicating his youngest daughter Cristina.

Cristina's husband Inaki Urdangarin has been under investigation since late 2011 for allegedly embezzling millions of euros paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation which he chaired from 2004 to 2006.

Urdangarin has appeared in court for questioning as part of the probe but has not been formally charged with any crime.

It is the first time a direct relative of the king has been called to appear in a court of law on suspicion of wrongdoing.

In May, the judge leading the investigation demanded that tax authorities provide him with a report on Cristina's property and non-property assets, investment funds, financial assets and deposits as part of his probe into the affair.

The king himself sparked outrage last year for taking an expensive elephant-hunting holiday in Botswana, while Spain struggled through a recession that has left one in four people out of work.

The head of state broke his hip during the trip and had to be flown home for medical care.

He issued an unprecedented public apology after his return but the hunting trip -- reportedly subsidised and organised by Syrian construction magnate Mohamed Eyad Kayali -- threw the spotlight on the royal family's deluxe lifestyle and raised questions about the sources of the royals' fortune.

The affair also drew attention to the king's friendship with Corrina Sayn-Wittgenstein, a blonde German aristocrat who is 28 years his junior, after it emerged that she accompanied him on the trip to Botswana.

The scandals along with his health concerns -- the king has appeared on crutches, looking frail and sometimes disorientated at public functions -- have fuelled speculation that he may turn a key page in Spanish history by abdicating in favour of his son Felipe, 45.

Announcing news of the operation last week, the royal palace said however that Juan Carlos had at no time considered abdicating nor handing over his powers to Felipe while he recovers from surgery, a process that his surgeon said could take two to six months.

That means Juan Carlos will likely miss the annual Iberoamerican summit of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American leaders in Panama from October 18-19.

© 2013 AFP

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