November 11, 2007
MADRID (Reuters) - Even Spaniards normally critical of the royal family backed King Juan Carlos on Sunday for telling Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to shut up, but some voiced concerns the monarchy was getting too involved in politics.
The king's flare-up at the Ibero American summit followed days of criticism by leftist Latin American leaders of Spain's political and business influence in former colonies.
The spark came when Chavez repeatedly called Spain's former conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, a fascist.
Spain's left-leaning El Periodico de Catalunya newspaper, representing a region where anti-royal sentiment runs high, said on Sunday that Chavez's behavior had been intolerable.
"Maybe it wasn't the best thing to say but the Monarch's fit shows just how much the Venezuelan's diatribe upset the Spanish," the newspaper said in its editorial.
Raising his hand at the fiery Venezuelan president, Juan Carlos had shouted "Why don't you shut up?"
In newspaper editorials, bars and Internet chatrooms, Spaniards said Chavez had been in the wrong.
"What the king said was completely justified, it's overdue," said bank worker Carlos Garcia, adding that he did not consider himself a supporter of either the royal family or Aznar.
But some appeared uneasy at the king taking on a more political role ahead of next year's general election.
Government ally El Pais said the king acted within his rights but raised concerns that the monarchy was losing the symbolic state function it has under Spain's constitution.
"The monarchy has recently been taking on a role that does not help in its important work to encourage moderation," El Pais said in its Sunday editorial.
The run-in with Chavez follows the first visit by Juan Carlos as king to Spain's disputed north African enclaves, sparking protests from Morocco, which claims the territories.
Juan Carlos won the trust of Spaniards by promoting the transition to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and has distanced himself from any political role.
One of the few voices in Spain to criticize the king over the attack on Chavez came from the Izquierda Unida leftist group, which said he acted like a 17th century monarch addressing his vassals.
"Telling an elected head of state to shut up is something you can't do in Spain or abroad," said Willy Meyer of Izquierda Unida.