Millions protest bomb attacks in Madrid
MADRID: Around eight million people crowded Spanish streets on Friday to protest the Madrid bomb attacks that killed 199 and wounded 1,400 people, as one of the prime suspects, the Basque militant group ETA, denied responsibility.
US President George W Bush pledged lasting US support for Spain’s efforts to battle terrorist groups, including the ETA.
Forests of umbrellas sprang up in rain-soaked cities and towns as citizens expressed their fury and grief at the 10 train blasts.
“A people united will never be defeated,” the crowd roared in unison in Madrid, where police said over million people had gathered.
Similar scenes elsewhere meant the rallies were probably the biggest the country has ever seen — even bigger than the February 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 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 on 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 a group linked to Al Qaeda. The Spanish government has focused on ETA. But late on Friday, just before the marches started, the group contacted a Basque newspaper and television station to deny any involvement. The interior minister rejected the denial, though he did say that the examination of an unexploded bomb had yielded “new leads”. —AFP