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Madrid Bombings Overshadow Spain's Election - 2004-03-14


Voters are casting ballots in Spain's general elections, as the country grieves for victims of Thursday's train bombings in Madrid that killed 200 people and injured more than 14-hundred others. Spain's 34 million voters are casting ballots for 350 seats in parliament.

Voter turnout is expected to be high, but results are uncertain. Before Spain's worst ever terrorist attack, the Popular Party of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar appeared set to win for a third straight time against the main opposition Socialists.

But possible involvement in the bombings by the al-Qaida terrorist network and the government's handling of the investigation could boost Socialist Party chances at the ballot box.

Mr. Aznar's critics say the government was too quick to dismiss claims that international terrorists were responsible for the attacks. Government officials initially blamed the armed Basque separatist group ETA, which has denied involvement.

On Saturday, police detained three Moroccans and two Indians in connection with the bombings. The government announced it has a videotape showing a man claiming to be an al-Qaida military leader who says the terrorist network carried out the March 11th attacks to retalliate for Spain's cooperation with the United States and its participation in the Iraq war.

The authenticity of the tape has not been confirmed. The videotape was found in a trash bin in Madrid after an anonymous call to a local television station.

Late Saturday, several thousand Spaniards demonstrated outside Popular Party headquarters (in Madrid) demanding to know if the government is hiding possible Islamic links in the attacks.

Demonstrators also protested Spain's participation in Iraq . Polls show that a large majority of the Spanish population oppose the war.

In another development, Moroccan security officials are expected in Madrid to help in the government's investigation of who was responsible for the bombings in Madrid.

Information for this report is provided by AFP and Reuters.

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