Spain's response to terror

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor   |   March 16, 2004 at 2:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- After the blood of some 200 innocent people was shed in Madrid last Thursday as a result of Europe's most horrific terrorist attack in recent history, much ink will now flow explaining how Spain has given in to the threat and pressures of Islamist terrorism.

Indeed, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the leader of Spain's Socialists and the winner of Sunday's elections, wasted no time in letting his constituents know that he would withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq where they are currently serving with the U.S.-led coalition. Zapatero also promised he would realign the country's foreign policy to lean more towards Europe -- "old Europe," that is -- backtracking on Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's staunchly pro-American stance.

But interpreting these events as Spain's surrender to terrorism would be gross oversimplification of the facts.

By voting Aznar and his Popular Party out of office and opting for the Spanish Socialist Labor Party -- or SPOE -- to lead them through these tumultuous times, Spaniards did not capitulate to terrorism -- domestic or international -- as many pundits have professed. Instead, Spaniards have chosen to send a clear message to their elected leaders. The message is: "Stop lying to us."

As workers continue to untangle the twisted remains of Madrid's ill-fated trains, another story is also starting to rapidly unfold -- one of how Aznar tried to manipulate Thursday's unfortunate events to his electoral advantage.

While all signs pointed to Islamist terrorists, Aznar incessantly tried to railroad public opinion into supporting the Basque thread.

Aznar now stands accused of "manipulating" the press following last Thursday's murderous bombings that claimed 200 lives and wounded about 1,500 morning rush-hour commuters.

According to a report aired by Radio France International, Aznar personally telephoned managing editors of Spain's leading media outlets after the attacks to impress upon them the need to spin the Basque separatist angle and place the blame for the attacks on ETA - the Basque separatist organization. Aznar was hoping that would give his Popular Party the upper hand in Sunday's election. His plan backfired, and now details are starting to emerge.

Following Aznar's defeat in the polls by the Socialist Labor Party, many Spanish journalists are now infuriated, accusing the prime minister of trying to "censure and manipulate" them.

RFI claims Aznar "crossed the yellow line" and reports that the Spanish press is now denouncing the prime minister's underhanded tactics. Among issues they raise is the logic, and the bias, of Tele Madrid programming a documentary on the bombings and assassinations carried out by ETA that was aired on Friday, the day after the train bombings and just prior to Sunday's elections.

Meanwhile, a number of editorials wasted no time in lambasting Zapatero as caving in to terrorism and saying that the big winner of Sunday's elections was in fact Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida affiliates. They credit bin Laden with toppling a U.S. ally, of swaying the Spanish electorate and of shaking voters.

Predictions are being made that having learned that they can so easily influence international politics through murderous bombing campaigns, Islamist terrorist will most likely try a repeat performance of the Madrid massacres in Rome, London and even Washington, D.C., at a time when mass casualties could influence voters in those cities in a similar manner.

In fact, Islamist fundamentalists may well think they have won, and that Thursday's slaughter moved the Spanish electorate to vote the way they intended them to. However, believing that would be wrong.

Independent polls carried out on Wednesday, the day before the bombings, showed the Socialists ahead with a slight majority.

A poll carried out by Noxa Consulting on Wednesday gave the Socialists less than a 2 percent margin, putting them, nevertheless, in the lead. A similar poll conducted Friday -- a day after the attacks, gave the Socialists an even greater lead. The big difference -- and the clear reason of the Socialist victory -- was the nearly 3 million votes the Socialists added while Aznar's now not so Popular Party lost about 690,000 votes.

One also must take into consideration the millions of young protestors who took to the streets of Spanish cities in the days before the start of the Iraq war a year ago this week. They were expressing their opposition to Aznar's policy of allying Spain with the United States in the war effort. Then, many were too young to vote. This year they voted.

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