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IN THE NEWS - Iraq War Anniversary and the Madrid Bombings - 2004-03-20

Broacast: March 20, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

President Bush said Friday that every government has a duty to fight and destroy terrorism. He said any sign of weakness only invites more violence for all nations. Mister Bush made the comments as he observed the first anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq. Diplomats from more than eighty nations gathered at the White House to hear his speech.

Mister Bush also said differences over Iraq belong to what he called, the past. He said the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has removed a cause of violence and aggression in the Middle East.

Also Friday, justice and interior ministers from European Union countries agreed at talks in Belgium to do more to fight terrorism. On March eleventh, bombs exploded on four trains in Madrid. More than two-hundred people were killed. More than one-thousand others were injured.

Many people in Spain blamed the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for the bombings. Mister Aznar has been a strong ally of President Bush and the war in Iraq. The Spanish government provided more than one-thousand troops for the American-led coalition. Ninety-percent of Spaniards opposed the war.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will be the next Prime Minister of Spain. Mister Zapatero says support for the war made his country a target for terrorist attacks. He has said he plans to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless they are placed under United Nations command by the end of June.

The People’s Party of Mister Aznar lost power in general elections in Spain last Sunday, three days after the bombings. The opposition Socialist party of Mister Zapatero defeated the ruling conservatives. Before the attacks, the People’s Party was widely expected to win the election.

The Spanish government says it had reason to blame the Basque separatist group ETA for the bombings. Police now say they believe Islamic militants linked to the al-Qaida group carried out the attacks. Some Spaniards say the government attempted to hide what it knew about links to Islamic extremists.

The government said Thursday that it would release intelligence documents linked to the attacks. Officials said they want to prove they did not try to trick the public.

On Friday, a judge in Madrid ordered five suspects in the bombings to remain in jail while an investigation continues. The three Moroccan and two Indian suspects deny any links to the attacks. Police also have been holding other people, including a man with Spanish citizenship. Some suspects are believed to have links to bombings in Morocco last year. Those attacks killed thirty-three people and the twelve bombers.

There have been reported claims of responsibility for the Madrid attacks by al-Qaida members or others acting in its name. American officials say they fear that the apparent influence on the Spanish elections will only strengthen Islamic terrorist groups.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.