Sat, 12 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Spain marks train bombings with bells and tributes

Elisabeth O'Leary, Reuters/Madrid

Spain solemnly commemorated the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings on Friday with church bells and silent tributes to the 191 people who died in al-Qaeda's worst attack in Europe.

Some 650 churches throughout the Madrid area rang their bells for five minutes from 7:37 a.m. (1:37 p.m. in Jakarta), the time that 10 bombs packed in rucksacks began exploding on four packed trains bringing workers to the capital.

Just after dawn at Atocha station, scene of two of the bombings, Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon joined tearful mourners who stood still in silent respect.

Some people left candles and flowers at the station and one woman collapsed, trembling, and was taken away.

Esperanza Aguirre, head of the Madrid regional government, presided at a solemn wreath-laying ceremony in the city's main Puerta del Sol square as dozens of uniformed police officers marked five minutes silence. Flags were lowered halfway.

Sonia Delgado, a 31-year-old office worker who was at Atocha station a year ago, said the atmosphere was more subdued than normal. "I think people pulled together that day because we realized it could happen to anybody," she said, with tears in her eyes.

"We've gone through a very hard time. I wasn't personally affected ... but I put myself in the place of those who were. Who would have thought it? They were going home, or to work, and they found death," said 59-year-old Guillermina Estevez, who lives opposite Atocha station.

Trains packed with commuters continued to pull into the station, just as they had done on the fateful day a year ago. Security was tight for the anniversary, with thousands of police officers on the streets of the capital and a NATO AWACS surveillance plane patrolling Spanish skies.

Relatives of the victims requested a low-key commemoration, wishing to avoid showy events that would bring back traumatic memories.

The then conservative government initially wrongly blamed Basque separatists ETA for the bombs, placed three days before a general election.

Islamic militants later claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in retaliation for Spain sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Widespread voter anger at the previous government's handling of the bombings was seen as a factor in Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's upset victory three days later. He promptly pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq.

The city will grind to a halt again for five minutes silence at midday when Moroccan King Mohammed will join Spain's King Juan Carlos and other world leaders for a wreath-laying ceremony at a "Wood for the Departed" where a tree has been planted for each of the victims of the March 11 bombings.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan joined a score of heads of state or government and hundreds of security experts at a conference in Madrid on Thursday, calling for stepped-up action against terrorism.

More than 2,000 people were injured in the blasts and many others still bear psychological scars.

Railway inspector Francisco Javier Zamarra said a colleague who witnessed one of the bombings was still shaken.

"He doesn't want to be here," Zamarra said earlier this week. "I'll try to overcome it, but we'll see. It's been tough for 365 days. This day in particular will be a hard one."

Seventy-five people, many of Moroccan origin, have been arrested in the criminal investigation. Of those 25 remain in jail, 17 are under court supervision and 33 have been freed.