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Schroeder meets new Spanish leader

Published on 24/03/2004

24 March 2004

MADRID – German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was to meet Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero in Madrid Wednesday following a state funeral service for the 190 people killed by terrorists in the Spanish capital on 11 March.

Schroeder was among dozens of heads of state and government who were part of the congregation of 1,500.

“Your pain became the pain of the whole world,” Madrid Archbishop, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela told 500 relatives of victims at the Almudena Cathedral.

He advised young people to keep away from destructive nationalist ideologies and vowed that the Madrid terrorists would face human and divine justice.

The funeral brought together the representatives of about 50 countries.

Zapatero also met with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, and was expected to hold talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, French President Jacques Chirac and Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio after the funeral.

Shortly before the midday service, Zapatero, who have pressure from members of the US-led coalition in Iraq to drop his plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, met briefly with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Washington-led invasion in Iraq.

Zapatero told Blair that Spain will maintain its 1,300 troops in Iraq only if the United Nations assumes a “central role” there, diplomats said.

The funeral was conducted by 28 bishops and three cardinals under the protection of 1,500 police. Madrid officials had pledged to turn the capital into an “armoured city”.

Terrorists planted four bombs on commuter trains in the Madrid region, leaving 190 people dead and more than 1,500 injured.

More than 40 of the fatalities were not Spaniards. They came from Latin America as well as countries including Morocco, Romania and Bulgaria.

Moslem, Jewish and Protestant representatives complained that the Roman Catholic Church had “monopolized” the funeral. Some of the victims were not Catholics, they stressed in a joint letter to political leaders.

“It is regrettable that a Catholic funeral is held in a country which regards itself as secular,” said Mariano Blazquez, a representative of Spain’s Protestant communities.

Before the funeral, Zapatero also met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Zapatero, who has threatened to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq, told Blair that his country would be willing to maintain a military presence if the UN assumes a central role in Iraq.

Zapatero’s Socialists ousted Jose Maria Aznar’s conservatives in the 14 March elections largely thanks to their opposition to the Iraq war, which was seen as having prompted Islamist terrorists to target Spain.

Zapatero intends to make major changes to Spain’s foreign policy, adopting a more European orientation in contrast to Aznar’s strong alliance with the United States.

Police have detained 13 suspects in connection with the Madrid bombings. They include Moroccans as well as two Indians and one Spaniard.

[Copyright DPA with Expatica]

Subject: German news