Petitions and memes target former king Juan Carlos after he leaves Spain

MADRID (Reuters) – Students in Madrid want their King Juan Carlos University to change its name, a few towns plan the same for parks or streets, and memes mocking the former monarch are circulating widely after he left the country amid a corruption scandal.

The constitution, political fragmentation and opinion polls that for years have shown the population is divided on the issue mean the latest scandal is unlikely to change Spain’s political system soon.

But the former king’s abrupt departure abroad to an undisclosed location – announced on Monday and which he said was to allow his son King Felipe to reign without being affected by his woes – is making waves at home.

The municipality of Gijon, in northern Spain, will change the name of its Juan Carlos I avenue because it considers the former monarch “does not represent the institutional, moral and democratic values of our society anymore,” spokeswoman Marina Pineda was quoted as saying by La Voz de Asturias newspaper.

In Madrid, an online petition to change the name of the university had passed 41,000 signatures by Wednesday morning.

“Corruption cases surrounding the Royal Family keep appearing, torpedoing the image of a monarchy that had been presented to us as ‘wholesome’ and ‘humble’,” the petition read, while the university’s name was trending on Twitter.

Amid a flurry of memes on the former monarch’s departure, one Twitter user said the university should be renamed “The university of the exiled king.”

TAKING DOWN STATUE

Juan Carlos came to the throne in 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco and was widely respected for his role in helping guide Spain from dictatorship to democracy. But recent scandals have tarnished his image, prompting him to abdicate in 2014 and now to leave the country.

In recent months, Swiss and Spanish prosecutors have begun investigating allegations of bribes relating to a high-speed Saudi rail contract and offshore accounts.

While Juan Carlos is not formally under investigation, details of the probes were leaked to the media, piling on pressure for the king to take action to protect the monarchy. Through his lawyer Juan Carlos has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.

Authorities in the Madrid suburb of Pinto last week approved changing the name of its Juan Carlos I park and taking down a statue of him.

“It is not conceivable that the most emblematic space in our city has a name that can be considered as suspicious in the field of ethics or morals,” a spokeswoman for the local government, Lola Rodriguez, said in a statement.

Juan Carlos’s whereabouts remain a mystery, with Spanish media saying he is either in the Dominican Republic or Portugal. Dominican authorities told Reuters the king’s last stay in the country was between Feb. 28 and March 2 and they had no information about a possible arrival.

Adding to the confusion, La Vanguardia newspaper reported that the ex-monarch had told friends his exit was temporary.

“I’m not on holiday and I’m not abandoning Spain. This is just a parenthesis,” he said in a message to friends, according to the newspaper.

A Royal Palace spokesman and a lawyer for Juan Carlos both said they had nothing to say. They have made no public comment beyond Monday’s announcement of the king’s departure.

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