THE USS Oscar Austin in Palma yesterday under tight security.

By Humphrey Carter THE United States warship USS Oscar Austin sailed in to Palma yesterday for a four-day stay surrounded by extremely tight security on land and at sea and sparking a political row. While the Guardia Civil and special anti-terrorist squad threw up a ring of steel around the Dique del Oeste, where the state-of-the-art guided missile destroyer with a crew of 380 is expected to be moored until Saturday morning. Balearic president Antich demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as to what the warship is doing in the Balearics after having made it clear only last week that allied forces are not welcome. Antich said that he was “surprised” at seeing the destroyer sail in and wants an explanation. The president claimed that the warship's presence “is causing the public and the local government a great deal of worry. Antich added that he was bewildered as to why such a heavily armed destroyer is in Palma. Official sources in Palma denied that the Arleigh Burke class destroyer is involved in preparations for the possible US-led war against Iraq. But the USS Oscar Austin is a member of the Harry S. Truman battle group, led by the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman which has recently completed a joint military exercise in the Adriatic with the Albanian military. It has been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to be “within striking distance of Iraq” and will soon be joined by the USS Theodore Roosevelt battlegroup. The Truman is accompanied by the guided missile cruiser USS Jacinto which put into Palma just before Christmas, enroute to the joint operation in the Adriatic. Apart from being only the second US warship to have visited Palma in the past 14 months, the USS Oscar Austin, named after private First Class Oscar P. Austin, a US Marine who was recognised with numerous medals, including the Purple Heart, for his actions in Vietnam, is the first warship to have visited Majorca since the Balearic government officially asked the Prime Minister to ban all allied forces involved in preparations for the possible attack on Iraq from using Balearic ports and airports. The USS Oscar Austin arrived in Palma just hours before the Balearic parliament approved another resolution against Spain's involvement in the possible war with Iraq. All local MP's, except members of the conservative Partido Popular backed the veto. The PP used the session to voice its opposition to the Spanish terrorist organisation ETA which on Saturday shot dead a member of the Local Police in the Basque Country. Nevertheless, the US warship's presence in Palma has angered certain members of the left-wing coalition government which has made its anti-war feeling clear over the past few weeks. While the PP pointed out that Spain is a member of NATO and therefore has obligations to comply with, local government spokesperson Antoni Garcias said that the central government delegate Antoni Ramis has some explaining to do about the destroyer's presence in Palma in view of the fact that the Spanish Minister for Public Administration, Javier Arenas, said in Palma last week that allied forces will not use Balearic installations as strategic bases. United Left MP, Eberhard Grosske, called for a “political response” to the warship's arrival, reminding the public of Saturday's anti-war demonstration in the capital. Local environmental group GOB and the UGT general workers' union last night demanded that the warship leave the Balearics. GOB said that its presence, apart from “provoking” the general public, “implicates the Balearics in preparation for the possible attack on Iraq.” The organisation added “the Balearics is opposed to war and rejected warships using the region's ports.”