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Spain: Poll triumph for Socialists

Monday, March 15, 2004 Posted: 1:03 AM EST (0603 GMT)

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Socialist party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero celebrates with supporters.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- In a dramatic rebuff to the ruling conservative Popular Party, Spain's socialists have scored a stunning victory in national elections.

Three days after terror attacks killed 200 people in Madrid, socialist leader Jose-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to make the defeat of terrorism his immediate priority.

Although his government may be one of change, some things will remain constant, Zapatero said.

Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party candidate, conceded defeat saying the election was marred by Thursday's tragic events.

"The Spanish citizen has spoken," said Rajoy, who was flanked by Aznar.

He said Sunday's results "force the big national parties to examine our responsibilities," and he vowed that the Popular Party would do just that.

"More than always, the national priority must always be the defeat of terrorists," he said.

The concession came after some 83 percent of the vote had been counted, showing the Socialist Workers Party on track to win 164 seats in the country's 350-seat parliament.

The ruling conservative Popular Party is tipped to win 148 seats, thus ending eight years of conservative rule.

After a minute of silence to remember Thursday's bombing victims, Zapatero expressed thanks "to all the governments and countries that have been with us in our pain."

Current Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had anointed Rajoy as his successor, but Spain's people had other ideas. (Analysis)

Turnout was high at 76 percent with voters seeming to express anger with the government, accusing it of provoking the Madrid attacks by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which most Spaniards opposed.

The election was thrown wide open by a reported al Qaeda claim that it was responsible for Thursday's Madrid train bombings to punish the government for supporting the Iraq war.

Before Thursday, the Popular Party had been favored to win by a comfortable margin.

Polling booths opened amid claims that Aznar's government possibly withheld information from the public about who was behind the terror attack that killed 200 people and injured 1,500.

Ministers had initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA, but as evidence mounted of an Islamic link, officials were forced to revise this position.

Officials said on Sunday, however, that they had been unable to identify the purported al Qaeda military spokesman who had claimed responsibility on a videotape for the bombings. (Full story)

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Sunday police would continue to hold five men -- three Moroccans and two Indians -- arrested on Saturday under anti-terrorist laws. One of the five men has been linked to the alleged ringleader of al Qaeda in Spain.

The Socialists, who had pledged to bring home Spanish troops from Iraq if they won Sunday, would benefit if al Qaeda or another Islamic group were found to be responsible because of their opposition to the war, analysts said.

Meanwhile, world leaders Sunday joined in solidarity with the Spanish people and condemnation of last week's terrorist attacks. (Full story)

Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman and Correspondents Alessio Vinci, Brent Sadler and Diana Muriel contributed to this report.


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