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Madrid Marks Three Years Since Train Bombing

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On the third anniversary of the commuter-train bombing in Madrid, Spain, political fallout from the incident is still perceptible. The terrorist attack killed 191 people.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In Madrid, Spaniards are marking a grim anniversary. Three years ago terrorists bombed commuter trains killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800. Three days later, voters ousted a Spanish government that had supported the Iraq war.

Jerome Socolovsky watched yesterday's ceremony in Madrid and he reports that the political fallout in Spain continues.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: There were no speeches, just the cello and a wreath-laying by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia.

(Soundbite of music)

SOCOLOVSKY: They placed it at the base of a new memorial, a shimmering glass tower outside the Atocha commuter terminal, destination of all four of the ill-fated trains. Then the dignitaries left. A crowd approached the glass, and what was supposed to be a solemn occasion quickly disintegrated into shouting matches.

(Soundbite of crowd)

SOCOLOVSKY: This particular argument was over an anti-government rally that filled the center of Madrid on Saturday. The September 11th attacks may have united America, especially in the beginning. But in Spain, the terrorist bombings of March 11, 2004 divided the country from the get-go.

The leftist government and the right-wing opposition have constantly accused each other of trying to profit from terrorism, whether by Islamists or Basque militants. At Saturday's rally, protestors called Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero a traitor. They accused him of appeasing the Basque separatist group ETA. Earlier this month, his government allowed an ETA hunger striker to be moved from prison to house arrest. Many people were outraged that leniency was given to someone convicted of murdering 25 people.

In yesterday's demonstration after the ceremony, Zapatero's backers were in the majority.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

SOCOLOVSKY: You are not alone, they told the prime minister. They called the anti-government protestors fascists, a loaded term in a nation that used to be a dictatorship, and they chanted anti-war slogans.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

SOCOLOVSKY: It was almost as though the clock had turned back to the eve of the invasion of Iraq when Zapatero, who was then an opposition candidate, led the massive anti-war protests. Spanish leftists have never forgiven former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose support for the war they say led Islamist militants to attack their country. Sixty-nine-year-old Luis Berlanga Lopez(ph) says Aznar tried to change the subject by initially blaming ETA.

Mr. LUIS BERLANGA LOPEZ (Demonstrator): (Speaking Spanish)

SOCOLOVSKY: It wasn't ETA, he said; they say it was ETA but it wasn't. They deceived us.

But the right wing still insist that ETA played at least some sort of role in the bombings. Now they're accusing the government of a cover-up. It's a claim that is at odds with evidence being presented against the 29 people on trial for the bombings, most of them alleged to be Islamist militants.

This weekend's commemorations and protests only seemed to have shown Spain as divided as ever over the train attacks. It may be no coincidence that elections are once again just around the corner - municipal ballots this spring and the national election next year.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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