FULL DIGITAL ELECTION COVERAGE TOMORROW

By Dan Trotta

AFTER millions of Spaniards flooded the streets in condemnation of deadly train bombings, the wounded nation turned toward Sunday's general elections with questions about the blasts unanswered. An estimated 11 million people, more than a quarter of the population, took part in marches on Friday night to condemn the violence of Thursday, when 10 bombs exploded in four packed commuter trains, killing 199 and wounding 1'500. The Friday night protests grew raucous and festive at times, but more serene mourning was expected on Saturday, when a funeral service for 40 victims was set in Alcala de Henares, a town east of Madrid where investigators believe the bombs may have been put on board the trains. It was Spain's worst ever guerrilla attack and the worst in Europe for 15 years, raising fears that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network may have struck in the West for the first time since September 11, 2001. The government said armed Basque separatist group ETA remained the prime suspect but has not ruled out Islamic militants and said several lines of investigation were open. A group tied to al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attacks and ETA has denied it, though neither claim has been confirmed as genuine. Sources at Basque public television EiTB say they recognised the voice of a caller in the name of ETA on Friday night who said the group “had no responsibility whatsoever” for the attack. The caller claimed to be one of two ETA members who in a videotaped message last month announced a partial truce limited to the Catalonia region. Interior Minister Angel Acebes said he did not believe the ETA denial and questioned the credibility of a letter purporting to come from a group aligned to al Qaeda, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, that took responsibility for the bombings. U.S. President George W. Bush said however he “wouldn't rule anybody out” as the perpetrator and promised American help in hunting down those responsible. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is one of Bush's closest allies, backing his decision to wage war in Iraq. The bombings forced the suspension of the election campaign and could influence the result of the poll, analysts say. Aznar is to step down, but his hand-picked successor, former deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is seeking a third straight four-year term for the centre-right Popular Party. Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who opposed the war in Iraq but has backed Aznar in the fight against ETA, is seeking to return the Socialists to power for the first time since Aznar unseated Felipe Gonzalez in 1996. About one-quarter of the Spanish population was still protesting under a steady rain in much of the country at a time when political rallies would normally be winding up campaigns. Yesterday is referred to as the Day of Reflection in which campaigning is normally halted. This time the campaign was called off after Thursday's attack. Investigation so far have failed to reveal any conclusive evidence of who had carried out the attacks. The government revealed on Thursday that a van containing seven detonators and a tape in Arabic had been found near the railway station of Alcala de Henares. The birthplace of Cervantes, Alcala de Henares, is an historic town surrounded by working class suburbs east of Madrid. Acebes said the discovery of an unexploded bomb meant to be used in the bombing had opened new leads. A sports bag was found on one of the mangled trains which contained explosives similar to a type Acebes said ETA had used in the past. He said the detonator was the same as those found in the van in Alcala de Henares but did not address media reports that the type of detonator was different to ones commonly used by ETA. “This attack was prepared so as not to fail,” he said.

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