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Anger over attack puts Spain's Socialists in power
Updated: 2004-03-15 08:56

In a dramatic rebuff to the ruling conservative Popular Party, Spain's Socialists have claimed victory in Sunday's national elections.

With nearly all the vote counted, the Socialist Workers Party is on track to win 164 seats in the country's 350-seat parliament, just shy of an absolute majority.

Spanish Socialist Party leader Jose Rodriguez Zapatero salutes supporters outside the socialist party headquarters in Madrid March 14, 2004.  [Reuters]
The ruling conservative Popular Party is tipped to win 148 seats.

The Socialists so far have won 42.07 percent of the total vote compared with 37.6 percent for the Popular Party, thus ending eight years of conservative rule.

The Socialist Party's leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has appeared live on Spanish television to claim victory, saying his party was now in a position to form government.

Zapatero vowed that fighting terrorism would be his first priority as he sets about creating a government of change "that will work for peace."

"Today, the Spanish people have spoken, and they said they want a government of change," he said.

After a minute of silence to remember Thursday's bombing victims, Zapatero expressed thanks "to all the governments and countries that have been with us in our pain."

Zapatero congratulated Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy as "a very good rival," and said he had called him and pledged "to cooperate in the matters of state."

Cuurrent Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had anointed Rajoy as his successor, but Spain's people had other ideas.

Zapatero said he would seek to increase the prestige of democratic institutions in Spain, and vowed to create a transparent government that "will act from dialogue ... it is a government that will work for peace."

He added, "My immediate priority will be to fight terrorism, and the first thing I will do tomorrow -- Monday -- will be to search for the unity of the political forces to concentrate all of our efforts in that fight."

Though his government may be one of change, some things will remain constant, he said, "Tonight, I want to govern for all of us and I assure you that power is not going to change me."

Zapatero made his remarks shortly after Rajoy conceded defeat.

"The results show that he has gained the trust of the majority of the Spanish citizens and the Partido Popular recognizes that this general election has been marred by the tragic consequences of the terrible events, and the Spanish citizen has spoken," said Rajoy, who was flanked by Aznar.

"The majority of the electorate has behaved in a civilized way, and it has been an homage to the memory of the victims," Rajoy added.

He said Sunday's results "force the big national parties to examine our responsibilities," and he vowed that the Partido Popular would do just that.

"More than always, the national priority must always be the defeat of terrorists," he said.

Turnout was high at 76 percent with voters seeming to express anger with the government, accusing it of provoking the Madrid attacks by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which most Spaniards opposed.

Spain's general election was thrown wide open by a reported al Qaeda claim that it was responsible for Thursday's Madrid train bombings to punish the government for supporting the Iraq war.

Before Thursday, the Popular Party had been favored to win by a comfortable margin.

Polling booths opened at 9 a.m. Sunday amid claims that Aznar's government possibly withheld information from the public about who was behind the terror attack that killed 200 people and injured 1,500 more.

Saturday night several thousand demonstrators chanted and waved signs in front of the Popular Party headquarters in Madrid and other cities, demanding the truth about who carried out the bombing and criticizing the government.

Ministers had initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA, but as evidence mounted of an Islamic link, officials were forced to revise this position.

Callers in the name of ETA have meanwhile issued media statements denying any role in the bombings.

"No more cover-ups," read one banner carried by the protesters.

Many of the millions who rallied for peace on Friday across Spain said they felt Aznar had provoked the attacks by backing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, according to The Associated Press.

The majority of Spaniards, including Zapatero, opposed the war. No Spaniards participated in the invasion of Iraq but Aznar later sent 1,300 peacekeeping troops.

Ten bombs exploded on four trains in three stations.

Officials meanwhile said on Sunday they had been unable to identify the purported al Qaeda military spokesman who had claimed responsibility on a videotape for the bombings.

The tape was recovered by police from a waste paper bin near the capital on Saturday.

On the video, the man, described as Abu Dujan al Afgani, is reported to have said the group blew up the Madrid trains in retaliation for Spanish cooperation with Washington's war on terror and the conflict in Iraq. CNN has not seen the tape.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Sunday police would continue to hold five men -- three Moroccans and two Indians -- arrested on Saturday under anti-terrorist laws. One of the five men has been linked to the alleged ringleader of al Qaeda in Spain. (Full story)

The attacks struck four commuter trains Thursday morning. Ten backpack bombs exploded. But an unexploded pack contained clues -- the explosive ECO, made in Spain, combined with metal pieces intended to multiply its destructive effect, with a detonator and a mobile telephone.

The investigation started by focusing on ETA, Acebes said, but broadened with the discovery of the unexploded backpack and a van containing seven detonators and a tape of Koranic verses in Arabic.

The van was found shortly after the attacks, in the eastern suburb of Alcala de Henares, located on the same commuter line that was attacked.

The private Spanish radio station, Cadena SER -- which has connections to the Socialists -- reported Saturday that sources in the Spanish intelligence agency said they were "99 percent sure" Thursday's attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists who probably fled the country immediately after the attacks.

The Socialists, which have pledged to bring home Spanish troops from Iraq if they won Sunday, would benefit if al Qaeda or another Islamic group were found to be responsible because of their opposition to the war, analysts said.

Meanwhile, world leaders Sunday joined in solidarity with the Spanish people and condemnation of last week's terrorist attacks.

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