24 March 2004
MADRID – A state memorial service was taking place in Madrid Wednesday for the 190 people killed by the commuter train bombings on 11 March.
King Juan Carlos and the rest of the Spanish royal family led mourners at the service at Almudena Cathedral.
Important political meetings were being held away from the ceremony, as world leaders meet the Socialist prime minister-elect Jose Luis Zapatero, the BBC reported.
First he met UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in “warm and friendly” talks.
Among other world leaders attending were German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Britain’s Prince Charles.
It is the first state memorial service for people outside the royal family in the history of Spain’s new democracy, restored after dictator General Francisco Franco died in 1975.
The large number victims’ relatives and dignitaries invited to the ceremony meant the congregation spilled over from the cathedral which adjoins the royal palace into the square outside.
Giant TV screens carried the ceremony live in the courtyard outside the cathedral, in a garden of the royal palace and in one of Madrid’s largest plazas, Puerta del Sol.
Across Spain, people stopped their normal routines to watch the ceremonies live on television from 12.15pm.
The Archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Rouco Varela, sought to comfort the mourners in his sermon.
“Great pain has filled your lives and those of your families since that black day in which brutal terrorist violence, planned and executed with unspeakable cruelty, ended the lives of your most beloved,” he said.
But there was anger as well as sadness among the mourners.
One man vented his feelings at outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is accused by many of provoking the attacks by sending troops into Iraq.
“Mr. Aznar, I hold you responsible for the death of my daughter,” he said.
The attacks in Madrid saw 10 bombs explode on four trains in three stations during the busy morning rush hour.
The number of deaths was recently revised down from 202 to 190, although there are thought to be human remains yet to be identified.
The prime minister-elect’s first meeting, with Tony Blair, was described by the British premier’s spokesman as “very warm and very friendly”.
Zapatero has promised to withdraw Spain’s more than 1,000 peacekeepers from Iraq unless the UN is given a strong mandate before the formal transfer of political power to Iraqis on 1 July.
After his surprise election victory on 14 March, Zapatero attacked the US and British policy, calling the war and occupation of Iraq a disaster.
Zapatero was holding talks with Powell, amid signs that the US was also seeking a resolution of the situation.
But the new Spanish leader will be having separate meetings with Chirac and Schroeder, who both opposed the Iraq war.
Later in the week, EU leaders are to gather for a summit at which the fight against international terrorism and the situation in Iraq are likely to dominate the agenda.
EU foreign ministers met on Monday to discuss measures to combat terrorism in the wake of the Madrid bombings.
Subject: Spanish news