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Blair's party nervous after Spanish polls

Shyam Bhatia in London | March 15, 2004 19:05 IST

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Members of Britain's ruling Labour Party are nervous following the Spanish government's defeat in the general election, which took place barely three days after the Madrid bombings last Thursday.

A general election is not due in Britain for at least another year, but Madrid offers the prospect of how terrorists could mount similar attacks in the UK in a bid to influence British voters.

A poll out on Monday shows that Muslim support for Labour has plunged, with only 38 per cent of them backing Prime Minister Tony Blair, compared with 75 per cent before the last election.

In Spain the unexpected collapse of the conservative Popular Party indicated a voter backlash against former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's backing for the US-led war against Iraq.

Voters have also expressed anger that Aznar's government blamed Basque separatists from ETA for the bombings, whereas it was Al-Qaeda that was responsible all along.

The feeling reported on the streets of Madrid is that the government knew who was responsible, but tried to avoid telling the public to evade the inevitable political backlash.

Spain's new prime minister, Josť Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has now pledged to bring back the 1,300 Spanish soldiers who are serving in Iraq. He has been a strong critic of the war.

"My immediate priority will be to fight all forms of terrorism," Zapatero said in his victory speech.

His party's victory with 42.6 per cent of the vote came after the authorities revealed that one of the arrested Moroccan suspects had already been linked with Al-Qaeda by Spain's top criminal investigator.

Jamal Zougan, one of those arrested at the weekend, was named in September by Judge Baltasar Garzon when he indicted Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and 34 other alleged members of the terror network for trial for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Zougan is one of five men being questioned by Spanish police. Two of the suspects are Indian nationals named as Kohli and Kumar.

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