Wednesday, March 17, 2004

With the Madrid bombings story becoming more international in scope I've headed back to London.

Its been an amazing few days marked by a succession of intriguing new developments.

First the Spanish Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, caused an explosion of his own on the eve of the election by admitting what most of us had suspected -- that it was probably Al-Qaida rather than ETA that was behind Thursday's attacks. The timing of the admission -- just a few hours before Spaniards went to the polls -- was breathtaking. It seemed like the act of a government desperate to claw back some credibility, after trying to hold back the full truth for days.

Mr Acebes' words came too late. The Spanish people vented their outrage at being "lied" to as they saw it by Jose Maria Aznar and his Partido Popular by voting the Socialists into power in the general election.

But no sooner had Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero clinched the presidency than he stuck the knife into George Bush and Tony Blair by carrying out a complete U-turn in Spanish foreign policy. He vowed to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30, calling the war a "fiasco" and urging Bush and Blair to engage in some self-criticism. The coalition that waged war against Saddam Hussein exactly a year ago suddenly looked paper thin.

Yesterday, the full extent of the Partido Popular's media manipulation became clearer. Reports came out suggesting that Jose Maria Aznar had personally telephoned newspaper editors to insist that ETA was responsible for the Madrid bombings and journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE demanded the resignation of their editor in chief. They claimed that from the very start they'd been prevented from writing reports suggesting Al Qaida was behind the attacks.

On the one hand, Al Qaida changed the course of the Spanish elections, hardening opposition to a government that waged a war that the overwhelming majority of Spanish people disagreed with.

But the PP could still have won the election if it had toned down its insistence that it was ETA, and not Al Qaida, that had bombed the Madrid trains.

In a sense, then, the events of the last week have been a triumph for democracy -- governments oppose the will of their own people at their peril...and that's something Tony Blair needs to remember as he prepares for his re-election campaign.


Post a Comment

<< Home