From Sat Mar 13 07:45:08 2004
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 16:32:04 -0600 (CST)
Organization: South Movement
From: Dave Muller <>
Subject: [southnews] Eight million join Spanish marches
Article: 175204
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Millions protest Madrid attacks as ETA denies responsibility

Agence France Presse, 12 March 2004

Millions of people crowded Spanish streets to protest the Madrid bomb attacks that killed 199 people, as one of the prime suspects, the Basque militant group ETA, denied responsibility.

Forests of umbrellas sprang up in rain-soaked cities and towns across the country as citizens expressed their fury and grief at the 10 blasts which had ripped through four crowded commuter trains early Thursday, wounding 1,400.

“A people united will never be defeated,” the crowd roared in unison in Madrid, where police said more than two million people had gathered.

Similar scenes elsewhere meant the rallies were probably the biggest the country has ever seen—even bigger than the unprecedented February 2003 protests against the Spanish government's support of the US war in Iraq.

European dignitaries including prime ministers Jean-Pierre Raffarin of France and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy as well as EU chief Romano Prodi attended the Madrid demonstration.

The Spanish royal family broke with tradition to underline the universal outrage at the attacks by also turning out in the form of Crown Prince Felipe, and his sisters Princess Elena and Princess Cristina.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose conservative ruling party is vying for re-election in legislative polls Sunday, was greeted with a mix of boos and applause when he appeared.

That stemmed from confusion over who exactly was to blame for the blasts, amid clues pointing to ETA and an unverifiable claim of responsibility from an Islamic group linked to al-Qaeda.

Aznar's government has focused on ETA as the likely culprit for what was Europe's worst terror attack since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270.

But late Friday, just before the marches started, the Basque separatist group contacted a Basque newspaper and television station to firmly deny any involvement.

It was “in no way responsible,” it told the newspaper Gara and broadcaster EITB.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes shrugged off the denial, though he did say that an unexploded bomb that was being examined had yielded unspecified “new leads”.

Some voters, however, expressed scepticism, believing Aznar may have made Spain a target for threatened al-Qaeda reprisals because of his unflinching support for the US occupation of Iraq.

Juan-Jo Bermudez, 26, one of a group of students giving out flyers during the Madrid rally said “the Spanish government's been manipulating us for a long time” and noted it was “extremely reluctant to admit it might have been Islamists.”

The government was forced to soften its accusations against ETA after hearing of the supposed claim from al-Qaeda, as well as finding a van containing detonators and an audio tape in Arabic reciting Koranic verses.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our enquiries. We will follow up each and every lead,” Aznar said after an emergency cabinet meeting earlier Friday.

The trauma of Thursday's outrage has struck deep in Spain, where media and officials have begun describing it as “our September 11” in reference to the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington attributed to al-Qaeda.

At a Madrid exhibition hall turned into a makeshift morgue, intensely emotional scenes unfolded Friday as families frantically sought, and found, missing kin more than 24 hours after the attacks.

“My God, my God. I can’t believe it,” screamed one distraught woman, running out of the morgue blinded by tears with a clutch of photographers in tow.

“The moment of identification is the toughest of all. All that remains sometimes is not a body, but an arm or a leg. Then identification is based on the presence of a scar, an item of clothing, a piece of jewellery,” said a young psychologist, Gema Perez, counselling distraught kin.

The horrific scenes of the attacks has elicited sympathy and words of support from around the world.

The Irish presidency of the European Union has proposed all EU countries observe three minutes of silence on Monday in memory of those killed in Madrid.

US President George W. Bush on Friday laid a wreath at the Spanish ambassador's residence in Washington and said: “The Spanish people will stand firm against this type of killing and they’ll have a friend with the American people.”