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Europe

Aznar Faces the Wrath of the Media

Journalists and media groups in Spain have accused outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Aznar of manipulating information in the aftermath of last week's terrorist attacks in Madrid.

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Under fire for twisting facts.

The political turbulence in Spain sparked by last week's terrorist attack, which killed more than 200 people, shows no signs of abating.

On Wednesday outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who suffered a shock electoral defeat last weekend, faced further trouble after foreign correspondents in Spain accused his government of deliberately and systematically manipulating information to sway the media in their favor.

Forced to point the finger at ETA?

On Wednesday the Association of Foreign Media in Madrid said that high-ranking government officials telephoned several journalists shortly after the bombings with requests that the scribes pinpoint Basque separatist group ETA as the perpetrator of the attacks in their reporting.

Such telephone calls were allegedly made even after the discovery of the suspicious delivery van containing Arabic tapes on the evening of the attacks.

Galerie Anschläge in Madrid Reaktionen Presse Spanien

The front pages of Spain's national newspapers report on the bombings.

Steven Adolf, head of the Madrid-based Association of Foreign Correspondents, accused Aznar's government of willfully misleading foreign journalists and said several officially accredited correspondents received calls on the evening of the attacks with explicit requests to mention ETA had carried out the attacks in their articles.

"It was the ETA"

Even the editor of the Spanish newspaper El Periodico, Antonio Franco spoke of an "exertion of influence." Franco said that Prime Minister Aznar had personally called him up as the paper was preparing a special edition on the terrorist attacks and told him, "it was the ETA. There's not the slightest doubt about that!"

Even daily El Pais reported that they had received telephone calls from Aznar, insisting that ETA was responsible.

Galerie Anschläge in Madrid Zug Rettungsmannschaft

After the attacks at Madrid's Atocha railway station

Allegations of manipulation and censorship are also echoing from Spain's state media. Several employees of state television network TVE, radio broadcaster RNE and news agency EFE are now demanding the resignation of their directors for caving in to government demands and presenting a distorted picture of the attacks (photo).

They also accuse their companies of biased reporting shortly before the parliamentary polls. Aznar is also believed to have said at a press conference a couple of days ago that he called up several newspapers last week to present the government's viewpoint. Aznar's Interior Minister Angel Acebes defended his information policy at the time. "We have always told the Spanish people the truth," he said.

Spanish film director in a soup over coup rumors

The present furor follows large demonstrations on the eve of the national polls last week when hundreds of Spaniards protested against Aznar's information policy in the aftermath of the attacks.

They accused Aznar of deliberately focusing on ETA to divert attention from the possibility of Islamic extremists as the likely perpetrators for fear of losing voters. Aznar has been a staunch ally of the U.S. in the war against terror and supported the war in Iraq much to the displeasure of many Spaniards. Aznar's electoral upset is widely seen as a punishment meted out to him by the Spanish people.

Pedro Almodovar

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar waves to photogaphers during a photocall in Rome, Friday, March 22, 2002. Almodovar is in Rome to present his last movie "Habla con ella" (Talk To Her). (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti)

Wednesday's controversy also took a spectacular turn when Aznar's Popular Party said it would sue Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (photo).

The director told reporters earlier this week he had heard rumors that Aznar's Popular Party planned a coup d'etat last Saturday, the eve of the elections it lost. Almodovar was quoted in Spanish daily El Mundo as saying: "If confirmed it would be horrendous."

On Wednesday Interior Minister Acebes said Almodovar's comments were "ludicrous" and didn't "merit respect." Popular Party spokesman Ignacio Calabuig said the complaint for "slander and calumny" would be filed with a Madrid court.

Criticism from the U.S.

Aznar's handling of information following the worst terrorist attacks in recent Spanish history has also attracted criticism from across the Atlantic.

"All, including the members of the UN Security Council, should learn a lesson from it," UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan said. The UN had condemned ETA shortly after the attacks on the insistence of Madrid.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has also slammed Spain's information policy and blamed it for the trouncing of the conservatives at the polls. "It wasn't the terror attacks themselves, but rather the way they (the Spanish government) dealt with it that cost the government the elections," Armitage said in a radio interview.

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