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Millions tell Aznar, ‘The blood is ours. The war is yours’

This article is over 20 years, 3 months old
'NO WAR! No war!' the crowd chanted as the Socialist Party leader, Zapatero, made his acceptance speech in Madrid on Sunday. They did so as a shock election result in Spain removed from office the Tory Popular Party of Aznar. Aznar was the one of the key European leaders who most backed the war against Iraq, and a year ago posed with Bush and Blair in the Azores as they launched that war.
Issue 1893

‘NO WAR! No war!’ the crowd chanted as the Socialist Party leader, Zapatero, made his acceptance speech in Madrid on Sunday. They did so as a shock election result in Spain removed from office the Tory Popular Party of Aznar. Aznar was the one of the key European leaders who most backed the war against Iraq, and a year ago posed with Bush and Blair in the Azores as they launched that war.

The Popular Party thought they could get away with blaming the Basque group ETA for the bombings in Madrid last week, and so boost their vote. But as news began to filter through on Saturday evening that ETA had nothing to do with the bombing, huge demonstrations erupted.

People were furious at the government’s lies, and angry that ordinary people in Spain were paying for the government’s support for the war. In the capital, Madrid, thousands were on the streets all night. The government was too scared to suppress them. There was a huge outpouring of anger in Barcelona too. People felt massively cheated. And the bombings brought the whole question of the war to the front of the debate.

The Socialist Party mentioned the war in its election campaign, but not very loudly. Even on Friday’s demonstrations, which were organised by the state, you could hear people chanting ‘No to war’.

By Saturday, though, the mood was crystal clear. The chant was, ‘We are paying in blood, because of the alliance with Bush and Blair in Iraq.’ A few hours later, right across Spain, people flocked to vote the liars and warmongers from office. Some 8 percent more people voted than at the last election.

There is usually a huge number of abstentions in elections in Spain, and often it’s the left who abstain. People take democracy seriously in Spain and they won’t vote for people who don’t represent them. This time young people turned out to vote against the PP.

‘200 dead-this is the price of oil’

Eyewitness report from Pablo Fernandez Alemany in Madrid

AT FIRST, at six on Saturday evening, there were only about a 100 of us on a protest called by word of mouth, by phone calls and by e-mail. The police wanted to clear us from the street. They began demanding our identity cards. But soon we were 500, and they changed their approach.

They told us the demonstration was illegal because it was a ‘day of reflection’ prior to the elections, and you were forbidden to make politics on this day. We asked if what the minister of the interior said on television was ‘not politics’. Ten thousand people, maybe more, joined us. The police tried to block us in, but we were too many for them to charge against us.

People chanted ‘Our dead, your war’, ‘This is the price of oil’, ‘Those in the government palace don’t live in the poor suburbs’, ‘Liars’, ‘The bombs against Iraq are exploding in Madrid’, ‘Still we say it, no to the war’, ‘Don’t exploit the dead’ and ‘Get out’.

People began banging pots and pans, and people who did not have them joined in by shaking their keyrings. People passed round handwritten notes saying, ‘Demonstration midnight, in the Puerta del Sol. Copy this and pass it on.’

In an electrifying atmosphere thousands of people began moving through the streets in the direction of the Puerta del Sol at 11.30pm. There were people waiting to join in. We were many more than when we started, perhaps 15,000. People chanted ‘Not everyone is here, 200 people are missing’-referring to Thursday’s dead. The Puerta del Sol, the historic centre of Madrid, was full of people. We held several minutes of silence for the victims and then we marched off again, towards the Atocha station where the bombs went off.

By this time, 1am, everyone already knew that Al Qaida had claimed responsibility for the bombing. Madrid was brought to a complete halt by the demonstration. People applauded us from their balconies, banging pots and pans. Everyone was animated and would not stop chanting against Aznar and the government.

From Atocha we went to the Congress of Deputies, which was fortified by police vans and rows of riot police. We returned to the Atocha, where we dispersed at 4am. The government party has said that the demonstration was illegal and there will be legal action. Its war in Iraq was certainly illegal. Now we can say ‘Anti-war movement 1, Popular Party 0’.

‘In our street no Spanish flags flew, just a few white sheets’

Report from Lynne Hunter and Steve Cannon in Madrid

FRIDAY’S ‘anti-terrorism’ march was an attempt by Aznar to manipulate voters. But the march by no means toed Aznar’s line. Independent TV stations showed footage of people pursuing Aznar demanding more information on the bombing. Significant sections were also chanting ‘Who did it?’ rather than the anti-ETA slogans.

The mood was changing on Saturday morning. In our street no Spanish flags flew, just a few white sheets. From 5.30pm people began gathering at the PP headquarters, a spontaneous representation of the mood which grew and grew as the night wore on.

‘Today anti-war placards are everywhere in Barcelona’

Report from Dave Viinikka in Barcelona

THE DEMONSTRATIONS on Friday were called by Aznar’s Popular Party, but Popular Party members were physically thrown off the demo in Barcelona and had to be escorted away by the police. Even then, there were anti-war placards and posters on the demo. But the mood on Saturday was transformed-it was just like it was a year ago when the war began.

Around 7,000 spontaneously marched up the Ramblas avenue and blocked the main road through Barcelona. We protested outside the PP offices until 1am. A woman there told me that in the working class district she lives in there were lots of people out banging pots and pans on the pavements, just like last year. There is enormous anger on the streets.

People were chanting that the PP were sons of the former dictator Franco, condemning the biased media coverage, and chanting that the bombs dropped on Iraq had landed in Madrid.

Today the anti-war placards are everywhere in Barcelona. We could not give out posters and stickers fast enough. The movement is revitalised, and I think the protests in Spain on Saturday, part of the international anti-war day of demonstrations, could be massive.

‘Thousands of young people were marching’

Report from Martin Smith in Bilbao

FRIDAY’S demonstration was massive in Bilbao, which is in the heart of the Basque country. There was a real sense of revulsion against the Madrid bombings. On Saturday there were more marches, but this time the demonstrators carried Basque flags with black ribbons on them to mourn the dead. Then on Saturday afternoon the police shot a man dead.

Sixty one year old Angel Berraco refused to put a mourning symbol over his bakery. He was shot four times. The dead man had two sons in prison for supporting Basque independence. The police killed him and arrested his other son.

The city was transformed. People were banging pots and pans everywhere. Thousands of young people were marching chanting ‘Asesinos!’ at the police, carrying handwritten placards. It reminded me of Genoa in July 2001. The mood has changed from sorrow and bewilderment to anger, with people saying they don’t want to be part of Spain because they just get blamed for everything.

Who’s who in Spanish politics

Popular Party (PP) Tories, founded by Fraga, former minister in charge of censorship for the fascist dictator Franco.

Jose Maria Aznar Outgoing Tory prime minister. Started his political career in the youth wing of Franco’s fascist movement.

Socialist Party (PSOE) Equivalent to Labour Party. Banned under fascism, in government from 1980 to 1996, backed NATO and supported first war on Iraq. Opposed war a year ago.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero New Socialist Party prime minister, very much in New Labour mould but mildly anti-war.

ETA Guerrilla group fighting for a Basque state independent of Spain.

Batasuna Political party sympathetic to ETA’s aims. Made illegal two years ago.

United Left Coalition of left wing groups, mainly from old Communist Party.

Who got what

The Socialist Party vote shot up by three million votes from 34 percent to 42.6 percent. The Tory PP vote fell by 600,000, from 44.5 to 37.6 percent.

The United Left vote remained more or less static, but its percentage of votes fell from 5.5 to 5 percent, leaving it with only five deputies. Its vote was squeezed by the desire of people to cast a ‘useful’ vote against the right. The biggest advances for the left were in Catalonia, which had the most vibrant anti-war movement. Here the local version of the United Left doubled its vote, while the left republicans increased their vote from 5.6 to 16 percent.

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