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Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2006, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Royal row over Russian bear fate
Brown bear
The bear was allegedly fed vodka mixed with honey
A Russian official has claimed that a tame bear was plied with honey and vodka before being shot dead by King Juan Carlos of Spain.

The official alleged that the king had killed the bear during a private visit to Russia earlier this year.

"It's not hunting - it's murder," Sergei Starostin, deputy head of Vologda region's hunting resources department told AFP news agency.

A Spanish monarchy spokesman said the claims were "ridiculous".

"We have no comment to make because this story is totally ridiculous and the source is sensationalist," a palace spokesman told AP news agency.

Naturally, a heavy, drunken animal became an easy target
Sergei Starostin

The palace said it would not confirm or deny that the king had been on a hunting trip during his visit to Russia.

Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, governor of the Vologda region - some 400km (250 miles) from Moscow - has set up a working group to look into the allegations, according to AP.

The bear - called Mitrofan - is said to have been taken from his home at a local holiday camp, put into a cage, and transported to the hunting grounds.

King Juan Carlos of Spain
The King is a keen hunter

Mr Starostin, in a letter to the Russian business daily Kommersant, said his captors "generously fed him with vodka mixed with honey and pushed him into a field".

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

A campaigner from conservation group WWF Russia played down the report and said he had not heard of such hunting practices in recent years.

"It used to happen maybe 10 years ago with the nouveau riche Russians," Alexei Weizman told AFP agency.

During the Russian trip, the king met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a resort on the Black Sea coast.

The king is reported to have undertaken hunting trips in Romania and in Poland in 2004.

Former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev - another keen hunter - is said to have shot some animals which had been plied with alcohol, or tied to trees.

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