Bitter row over troop withdrawal from Kabul

22nd September 2005, Comments 0 comments

22 September 2005, MADRID — The Spanish prime minister and the leader of the conservative opposition are embroiled in a bitter five-hour debate over the departure of Spanish troops in Afghanistan.

22 September 2005

MADRID — The Spanish prime minister and the leader of the conservative opposition are embroiled in a bitter five-hour debate over the departure of Spanish troops in Afghanistan.

Socialist premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy accused each other of manipulation and being economical with the truth.

The premier said that the 500-man contingent sent to Afghanistan to help monitor the recent elections will began its withdrawal.

They should be back in Spain by 12 October after having "successfully" completing their mission.

After paying homage to the 17 Spanish soldiers who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in August, which Zapatero called a "tragic accident," he defended the humanitarian nature of Madrid's troop deployment there.

However, Rajoy, the leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), accused the prime minister of having deceived his government, his legislative colleagues and the public by "deliberately obscuring" the troops' mission.

He said Zapatero had given the country a "Little Red Riding Hood story without the wolf".

Rajoy added that the premier had not mentioned that in Afghanistan a "very tough struggle" is being waged against terrorism and that the troops' deployment was not a peace mission because "there's no peace ... (and it's) very dangerous".

Zapatero responded that Rajoy was not telling the truth, had "a problem with the past ... (and was) trying to overcome his very serious errors" in Iraq, referring to the decision of the 1996-2004 PP administration to join the U.S.-led occupation force in that Middle Eastern country.

He said that he had explained the current risks in Afghanistan and, in contrast to Rajoy's remarks, added that he was not the Spanish prime minister with the most troops stationed abroad, a distinction he said belonged to Jose Maria Aznar, his predecessor.

Aznar's commitment of Spanish forces to Iraq was opposed by 90 percent of Spaniards, according to polls taken in 2003.

Prior to 11 March, 2004, when what turned out to be Islamic militants detonated bombs that left nearly 200 dead on Madrid commuter trains, Rajoy was expected to become Spain's next prime minister, as the PP was tipped to win the 14 March general elections.

But the Socialists pulled off an upset, thanks in part to public perceptions that the terror attacks were in response to the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq, and to mistrust generated by the Aznar government's insistence in blaming the bombings on Basque separatists even after evidence emerged pointing to radical Muslims.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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