Fierce Zapatero critic steps down from leading terrorist victims group
Alcaraz says successor will continue to lobby for tough anti-terror policies7 March 2008
MADRID - Citing personal reasons, Francisco José Alcaraz announced Thursday that he is stepping down as president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), a powerful lobby that has been a thorn in the side of the Socialist government's counterterrorism policy over the last four years.
Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, Alcaraz said he chose to make the announcement ahead of Sunday's general election so nobody could accuse him of leaving for political reasons. "I didn't want people to say Alcaraz left because [Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero won again or because Zapatero lost," he said. "I didn't want news of my resignation to be manipulated or seem politically motivated."
Alcaraz, who lost a brother and two nieces in a car bomb attack by ETA in 1987 when he was 19 years old, has been fiercely critical of Zapatero's counterterrorism policy since taking over the AVT in June 2004, three months after the Socialists came to power.
Speaking in the name of Spain's largest association of ETA victims, he railed against Zapatero's efforts to launch a peace process in the Basque Country and accused him of insulting and turning his back on victims when he authorised peace talks with the Basque terrorist group. Some of his inflammatory accusations, including allegations that the Socialist administration was "conniving with murderers," and that Zapatero was "ETA's ambassador," have led to criminal charges being brought against him by the government.
That case is still pending before the High Court, but yesterday Alcaraz remained defiant even as he prepared to leave the public limelight and resume his career as a hair doctor. He told reporters that his successor as AVT president, Juan Antonio García Casquero, will continue the campaign of "civil disobedience" he launched against any government counterterrorism policy the association sees as too lenient.
That campaign has included protests, supported by the conservative opposition Popular Party, which brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets of Madrid on several occasions over the last three years.
Implicitly, and despite claiming the AVT is a non-partisan association, he urged voters not to vote for the Socialists in Sunday's election.
"It is very sad that on 9 March citizens have to choose whether to give continuity to a prime minister, who has a document on the table giving him permission to negotiate with murderers," Alcaraz said.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / ANGELES ESPINOSA 2008]