Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Spanish monarch accused of killing intoxicated bear

AP , MADRID

The king says it didn't happen. Mitrofan the bear isn't around to talk about it anymore.

A spokeswoman for Spanish King Juan Carlos said on Thursday that Russian reports the 68-year-old monarch killed a tamed and inebriated bear during a visit in August were "ridiculous."

The palace confirmed the king, who is known to enjoy hunting, was in Russia at the time of the alleged shooting, but it says he didn't kill any bears, let alone one that was fed vodka-spiked honey.

"He neither hunted with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin nor killed a bear," a spokeswoman for the palace said.

But those denials are apparently not enough to stop regional Russian authorities from launching an inquiry into how Mitrofan met his end.

Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, governor of the Vologda region, about 400km northeast of Moscow, set up a group that includes a deputy governor and top environmental protection officials to look into the August incident, spokeswoman Yevgenia Toloknova said.

On Thursday, Kommersant, Russia's top business daily, cited a letter to the governor written by the region's deputy hunting chief, Sergei Starostin, which claimed that the bear -- named Mitrofan -- had been fed honey mixed with vodka before being released near the site where the king was to be hunting.

Toloknova refused to say whether any local officials had accompanied the king on his hunting trip.

Starostin wrote in the letter that the local authorities turned the king's hunting into a "disgusting fraud."

Mitrofan, whom Starostin described as "a good-natured and joyful bear" was taken from his home at a local holiday resort and brought to the hunting place where they "generously fed him with vodka mixed with honey and pushed him into a field," the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.

"Naturally, a heavy, drunken animal became an easy target. His Highness Juan Carlos took Mitrofan out with one shot," Starostin said in the letter, according to Kommersant.

During the August trip, Juan Carlos also met with Putin at the Russian president's vacation residence at a Black Sea resort to discuss bilateral and international issues. The Russian media reports do not allege that Putin was present during the hunt in Vologda.

Though the spokeswoman at the Spanish palace described the reports of the bear's shooting as "ridiculous," the king has reportedly shot at the beasts before.

Juan Carlos hunted bears and wild boar during a trip to Romania in 2004, according to a report in Spain's El Mundo newspaper.

It was unlikely the reports would have any effect on Juan Carlos's high popularity and family-man reputation at home.

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