Sunday, March 14, 2004

Al-Qaeda and Spain

Al-Qaeda proves that they can influence elections--in their favor:

Voters ousted Spain's ruling party in elections Sunday, with many saying they were shaken by bombings in Madrid and furious with the government for backing the Iraq war and making their country a target for al-Qaida.

The Socialist Party declared victory with 79 percent of the votes counted, as results showed it winning 164 seats in the 350-member parliament and the ruling Popular Party taking 147. The latter had 183 seats in the outgoing legislature.

"According to the available data, the Socialist Party has won the general election. It is a clear victory,'' said Jose Blanco, the party's campaign manager.

Turnout was high at 76 percent. 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.

What a sad day for democracy...


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