Voters in Spain’s national election, still reeling from last week’s terrorist attack and boiling with anger at the country’s handling of the war on terror, handed a dramatic upset victory to the Socialist opposition yesterday, ousting the ruling Popular Party, which only last week was coasting to re-election. All the papers lead with the news, which is likely to cost the U.S. a staunch ally in its occupation of Iraq. The soon-to-be prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has pledged to withdraw Spain’s contingent of 1,300 troops if the occupation does not win a U.N. mandate—although he struck a more unifying tone in a speech to supporters last night. “My immediate priority will be to combat all kinds of terrorism,” he said. “The terrorists must know that they will confront all of us together. We will win.”
The papers all weave a Bush-centric master narrative from this electoral turnaround. Everyone concludes that Spanish voters punished outgoing PM José María Aznar for vocally supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and thereby inviting a revenge attack from what increasingly appear to be Islamist terrorists. The New York Times fronts an accompanying news analysis that explicitly highlights the proxy blow Spaniards dealt to President Bush, who has often relied on Aznar to round out his “coalition of the willing.” The Wall Street Journal, for its part, fronts a piece on the political fallout across Europe (subscription required), which may have other pro-Bush governments questioning their resolve. “We cannot escape the hypothesis that we are a target,” said the head of Poland’s intel service.
But the Washington Post notes in its lead, USA Today notes in its cover story, and the NYT mentions in yet another article inside, that a more determining factor may have been outrage at the government’s tone-deaf insistence—out of what some said was political self-interest—on blaming Basque separatist group ETA for the attack. According to separate articles on the investigation that the Los Angeles Times and WP front (and the NYT stuffs), the Spanish government further backed away from that original position yesterday, announcing that one of the three Moroccans arrested on Saturday in connection with the bombing had been linked last year to an al-Qaida operative who helped prepare the Sept. 11 attacks.
The papers’ leads also report that the Socialists did not win a majority of seats in the Parliament, which means Aznar could remain in power for as many as three months while Zapatero cobbles together smaller parties in a majority coalition. There were, according to the NYT’s lead story, 28 parties on yesterday’s ballot, including The Party for Romantic Mutual Support and the Party of Retired Self-Employed and Widows.
The LAT and NYT front—and the WP reefers—a double suicide bombing that killed 10 civilians (11, according to the Post) at an Israeli industrial seaport complex yesterday. The bombers were apparently teenage schoolmates from a Gaza Strip refugee camp, and the papers note that the attack represents the first time in the current conflict that suicide bombers have managed to bypass the electronic fence that encloses Gaza to strike a target inside Israel. In response, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon cancelled Thursday’s summit with Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei and attack helicopters lanced rockets at targets within Gaza City.
Russian President Vladimir Putin won rubber-stamp re-election yesterday in an exercise whose sole suspense was whether turnout would hit the 50 percent required for it to count, according to stories the NYT, WP, LAT front, USAT reefers, and the WSJ stuffs (sub. req.). “We shall strengthen the multiparty system. We shall strengthen civil society and do everything to uphold media freedom,” Putin said after a campaign in which he arrested a political opponent, solidified his personal control of Parliament, refused to debate his rivals, and severely curtailed other campaigns’ access to media. Still, in a separate scene piece deep inside the Post, one Muscovite suggested that the ubiquitous images of Putin aren’t so bad. “This is not Turkmenistan,” he said. “The pictures are irony, not Stalin.”
Iraqi oil fields are now pumping close to the same amount of oil they produced before the war (sub. req.), according to a piece inside the Journal. “Every day we go by without an attack on that thing, we count our blessings,” a senior occupation official said of a newly opened pipeline. Otherwise, the past couple of days have been especially hard for the occupation, claiming the lives of six U.S. soldiers, according to a NYT fronter, and stories inside the LAT and WP. Although the LAT reports that it’s too soon to infer an inflection point in casualties, the NYT points toward insurgents’ “new and grimly devious tactics,” such has hiding IEDs (military jargon for “improvised explosive devices”) inside animal carcasses along convoy routes.
Sen. John Kerry took heat yesterday over comments he made at a March 8 fund-raiser at which he said, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, ‘You gotta win this; you gotta beat this guy.’ ” According to the LAT, WP, and NYT, Colin Powell (and reporters) challenged Kerry to say which leaders, and a Republican taunted him at a “town hall” meeting in Bethlehem, Pa.: “Were they people like the president of North Korea?”
The NYT fronts an investigation into “video news releases” that the Department of Health and Human Services distributed to local TV stations to promote the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. The videos may run afoul of federal regulations against government propaganda because they don’t specify who created them and are edited (replete with a fake reporter’s voiceover) to be part of a normal newscast. According to the Times, one segment shows a pharmacist talking to a customer:
The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” Indeed, the pharmacist says, “A very good idea.”