A monument to the 191 victims of the March 11, 2004 terror attack has just been unveiled in Madrid. (AP) But that is not what’s dominating the headlines from Spain. Did the huge protest over the release of an ETA militant spontaneoulsy “overshadow” the 3-11 commemoration—or was it consciously designed to exploit it, just as José Maria Aznar initially sought to use al-Qaeda’s attack as propaganda ammo against ETA? From the London Times, March 12, emphasis added:
Hundreds of thousands of conservative Spaniards marched this weekend in Madrid to protest against the Socialist Government’s decision to release a Basque separatist killer from prison.
The decision to grant Iñaki de Juana Chaos house arrest after 114 days of hunger strike has driven relations between the two main political parties in Spain to a new low.
At the protest on Saturday, organised by the conservative Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, the opposition leader, accused the Government of having surrendered to terrorism.
Releasing de Juana, he said, was the price that the Government had paid to negotiate with Eta, the violent Basque separatist group.
According to police estimates, about 350,000 people crowded into the centre of Madrid, turning the streets into a tide of red-and-yellow flags and calling for the resignation of José Luis RodrÍguez Zapatero, the Prime Minister.
The political storm overshadowed the third anniversary of the Madrid bombings by Islamist militants, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800 on March 11, 2004. Political tensions flared at the opening of a new memorial to the victims, which was intended to be a solemn service attended by the Royal Family.
Supporters of both political parties hurled insults at the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Yesterday, a government spokesman took Mr Rajoy to task for failing to mention the bomb victims in his speech to protesters on Saturday.
The previous Government, of which Mr Rajoy was a part, blamed Eta for the massacre, despite mounting evidence that it was the work of Islamist extremists. Spaniards, angered by its stubborn insistence, voted out the conservative Government three days later.
The issue of Eta and the release of de Juana look set to consume much of the final year of Mr Zapatero’s Government, and the Opposition hopes that it can use the issue to defeat him in March next year.
However, a recent poll by Instituto Opina indicated that the release of de Juana has not hurt the Prime Minister as much as might have been expected. Nearly 60 per cent disagreed with the decision, but nearly half understood it from a political point of view.
The Prime Minister’s approval ratings have fallen to 48 per cent but he is still more popular than Mr Rajoy, at 39 per cent. The Socialist Party retains a lead of three percentage points in the latest poll.
See our last post on Spain and the Basque struggle.