Wednesday, March 17, 2004

More Spain

Even more truth trickling into US newspapers:

Voters said they were enraged not only by the government's insistence that the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, but they also resented its clumsy attempts to quell antigovernment sentiment.

For example, the main television channel TVE, which is state-owned, showed scant and selective scenes of antigovernment demonstrations on Saturday night, just as it ran very little coverage of the large demonstrations against the war in Iraq last year. It also suddenly changed its regular programming to air a documentary on the horrors of ETA.

That was the last straw for some Spaniards, who said it evoked the nightmare of censorship during the Franco dictatorship little more than a quarter of a century ago.

Prime Minister José María Aznar personally called the top editors of Spain's major dailies twice on the day of the attacks. In the first round of calls, Mr. Aznar said he was convinced that ETA was responsible.

"He said, `It was ETA, Antonio, don't doubt it in the least,' " said Antonio Franco, editor in chief of the Barcelona-based El Periódico de Catalunya, in an interview.

Mr. Franco's newspaper published a special edition based on Mr. Aznar's call, then Mr. Franco published an editorial rectifying the mistake as new information came to light. "It was shameful to me that the whole world was taking precautions and debating about Al Qaeda except in Spain, where the attack occurred," he said.

At the Spanish news agency EFE, Alfonso Bauluz, a correspondent and member of the agency's union, said, "I received information from my colleagues, who have good sources, about the Al Qaeda hypothesis, but the editor said we don't want that, don't pay attention. On Saturday, the editor wrote a story with his own byline saying all possibilities of an Al Qaeda connection were thrown out."

During Mr. Aznar's second call that evening, he acknowledged that other avenues were being investigated, but discounted them, Mr. Franco said.

Meanwhile, within 24 hours of the terrorist attacks, the Socialists, through their own intelligence and diplomatic contacts in the Muslim world, were already leaning toward the theory that Al Qaeda and not ETA was responsible, two senior Socialist Party officials said.