by Reuters –
MADRID (February 15, 2004) Reuters — Thousands of anti-war protesters have taken to the streets across Spain calling for the government to withdraw its 1,300 troops from Iraq and for the United States to end its occupation there.
With general elections due on March 14, the Iraq war remains a hot issue in Spain one year after the ruling centre-right party defied public opinion and backed the U.S. invasion.
The demonstrations on Sunday — in major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia as well as smaller towns — marked the anniversary of massive anti-war protests a year ago. With the US-led forces poised to invade, millions came out a year ago, but crowds were much smaller this time.
Protestors claimed 150,000 marched in Madrid, while authorities put the figure at 9,000, according to the Spanish news agency Europa Press. In Barcelona, organisers said a crowd of 20,000 versus an official estimate of 4,000, the website of newspaper El Mundo said.
Socialist candidate for prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to withdraw Spanish troops unless the occupation receives a United Nations mandate.
But recent polls show ruling party candidate Mariano Rajoy favoured to win next month. “We have a deaf, blind and insensitive government, but we are going to continue to exercise our right to say no,” Socialist politician Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told reporters.
Gaspar Llamazares, leader of Spain’s third largest party, the Communist-led United Left, said he hoped to transfer the anti-war sentiment into votes next month. “We’re talking about defeating the right and the (ruling) Popular Party,” Llamazares told reporters.
A year ago polls showed up to 90 percent of Spaniards were against the war, but the Popular Party held firm in municipal elections last May, narrowly losing the popular vote to the Socialists but gaining more overall seats in town halls nationwide.