Spain's Socialists Appear Poised to Win
By ED McCULLOUGH
MADRID, Spain (AP) - The ruling Popular Party looked headed for defeat in Sunday's general elections overshadowed by the Madrid terror bombings, with the opposition Socialists poised to score spectacular gains, according to partial results.
Many voters said they were furious with the government for backing the U.S.-led war in Iraq and making Spain a target for al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the bombings. Turnout was high at 76 percent.
With 56 percent of the votes counted, the conservative Popular Party - which had been projected to win comfortably - fell from 183 seats in the last 350-seat legislature to 146. The Socialists soared from 125 to 163.
Many voters said Thursday's bombings, which killed 200 people and wounded 1,500, was a decisive factor, along with the government's much-criticized handling of the initial investigation.
``The Popular Party has made me lose faith in politics,'' said Juan Rigola, 23, a biologist in Barcelona. ``It deserves to lose and to see the Spanish people turn against them.''
The electorate of 34.5 million included about 1.9 million mostly young voters added to the rolls since the 2000 general election.
Until the bombing, the conservative Popular Party was projected by most polls to beat the Socialists, although perhaps without retaining their majority in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies.
But the disaster, which the government initially blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA, threw the election wide open. The attack was followed by emotional rallies across the country.
Critics accused the government, which had trumpeted its crackdown on ETA, of manipulating the investigation for political gain. That struck a chord with voters.
``I didn't intend to vote, but changed my mind,'' said Javi Martin, 30, who works for a TV station in Madrid. ``And not because of the attacks, but because of the responsibility of the Popular Party. They gave out information drop by drop. It would have benefited them if it were ETA.''
Some voters were angry at outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, accusing him of making Spain a target for Islamic extremists because of his support for the Iraq war, despite the opposition of most Spaniards. Aznar sent 1,300 Spanish troops to Iraq after the conflict and 11 have died.
``I wasn't planning to vote, but I am here today because the Popular Party is responsible for murders here and in Iraq,'' said Ernesto Sanchez-Gey, 48, who voted in Barcelona.
Other voters, however, expressed support for the ruling party precisely because it endorsed the Iraq war, and for its crackdown on ETA.
Mari Carmen Pinadero Martinez, 58, a housewife, said she ``voted to help the government end terrorism'' as she cast her ballot near the downtown Atocha railway station where trains were bombed.
In El Pozo northeast of Madrid, site of one of the four blasts, a ruined train car was in clear view of the polling station as were flowers for the victims, signs stating ``Paz'' (Peace) and dozens of lit candles.
Some of the voters, teary-eyed, held onto relatives and friends for support.
The Interior Ministry has announced five arrests in the bombing, including three Moroccans, and discovery of a videotape in which a man speaking Arabic says Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Morocco, authorities said one of the five detainees had been under surveillance for months and was suspected of ties to Islamic radicalism.
On Sunday, a Basque-language daily published a statement by ETA in which the group for a second time denied involvement in the attacks.
A handful of young protesters screamed ``murderer'' at Mariano Rajoy, the ruling party candidate for prime minister, as he cast his vote in an elementary school outside Madrid. ``We did not want to go to war!'' they shouted.
Rajoy declined to comment on the arrests or videotape. ``These elections come at a time of great pain,'' he said.
As Aznar voted in Madrid, some bystanders cheered him while others shouted, ``Manipulator!''
``All Signs Point to al-Qaida,'' the country's largest circulation newspaper, El Pais, said in a front-page banner headline Sunday.
The videotape was recovered from a trash basket near a Madrid mosque after an Arabic-speaking man called a Madrid TV station to say it was there, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
The political campaign was bitter between Rajoy, 48, a veteran Cabinet minister under Aznar, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, 43, a lawyer, member of parliament and the Socialist party's general-secretary.
Before the attacks, polls gave Rajoy's party a 3-5 percentage point lead over the Socialists in the race for the 350-seat Congress of Deputies.
Aznar did not seek re-election, complying with a pledge to not seek a third four-year term.
IU (Leftist Union, communists etc)
CiU (Catalan autonomists)
ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia)
EAJ-PNV (Basque nationalists - not the ETA-affiliated ones, tho they governed in coalition for a while in the Basque province)
Minister sparks row over Madrid
The presence of EU leaders was a "powerful political message"
Denis Macshane has been criticised for contrasting European solidarity over the Madrid bombings with political disunity in the UK.
The Europe Minister said EU leaders in Spain had shown an "unprecedented display" of European feeling.
By contrast opposition parties in the UK were still obsessed with "petty, rather parochial politics".
The Conservatives have accused him of using tragic events for "tawdry political point-scoring".
In an interview with the BBC Mr MacShane urged the UK to stop discussing the reasons for going to war in Iraq and join the rest of the continent in "unity" against terrorism.
Mr Macshane said he had been taking part in European political demonstrations for 30 years.
"This was the first time when I really felt I was taking part in a European event," he said.
Leaders from across the political spectrum had turned out to say "Europe is standing together against this terrible atrocity".
"It was a remarkable European phenomenon."
But Britain, he argued, was "still obsessed with fighting the whys and wherefores of using military force to get rid of Saddam Hussein".
"We are obsessed with who said or did or wrote or e-mailed what to whom 18 months or two years ago," he said.
The presence of so many EU leaders - including British deputy prime minister John Prescott - on Madrid's anti-terror march on Friday "was a very powerful political message".
But Conservative shadow Foreign Minister Michael Ancram stongly denied any suggestion the Tories were spending too much time arguing over the decision to go to war in Iraq.
"It was totally wrong to imply that the Conservative party has ever been anything other than 100% committed to the war on terror," he said.
He added the British people had little time for "cynical manoeuvring" by the Labour government and would instead be thinking of the people of Spain.
Liberal Democrat Chairman Matthew Taylor suggested that Denis Macshane shouldl withdraw his comments or resign.
"All political parties are united in condemning the appalling bombings in Madrid," he said.
"We all need to think long and hard about whether recent policies have made the world a safer place, not indulge in political point-scoring."
Mi corazon va con los Madrileños y Españoles una ciudad y un pueblo que yo admiro muchisisimo. Les mando mi cariño.
(Thinks...must remember to find out if Charles Kennedy is Muslim)