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Spain's Parliament Elects Zapatero as Prime Minister - 2004-04-16

Spain's parliament on Friday voted in the new Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as the country prepares to redefine its role in the international fight against terrorism.

A beaming Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sat back in parliament on Friday, as one deputy after another stood up to say "yes," or "no" to his premiership. Of 350 votes, the 43-year-old received 183, including those of his own party and several small regional parties. One-hundred-forty- eight voted against, and 19 abstained.

The vote comes little over a month after Mr. Zapatero swept to power in a surprise election victory, propelled, analysts say, by the Madrid train bombings of March 11, which killed more than 190 people and injured more than 1,900.

The attacks sparked a surge of anger against the ruling conservative party for its support for the war in Iraq, support which many Spaniards said had brought al-Qaida terrorism to Spanish soil.

The main issue now facing the Socialists is how to address terrorism, both abroad and in Spain. An al-Qaida-linked group this week demanded that Spain withdraw its troops from Iraq, where there are 1,300 Spanish troops, and from Afghanistan, where there are 125.

Mr. Zapatero has promised a firm hand in the war on terror. But his central election promise was to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, unless the United Nations takes on a major political and military role there by June 30.

Critics have warned that Spain's pulling out of Iraq would weaken the drive to stabilize the region.

To tackle the delicate issue of external affairs, Mr. Zapatero has appointed as his foreign minister a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was EU envoy to the Middle East.

Like the new prime minister, Mr. Moratinos has said an international military presence in Iraq that is not backed by the United Nations only inflames terrorist sentiment. He says terrorism must be tackled by greater international intelligence-sharing. It must also be attacked at its roots by improving the lot of young Muslims who may otherwise be susceptible to radical preaching.

In keeping with that thinking, Spain has pledged to make relations with its Moroccan neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar a priority. Most of the suspects in the March 11 bombings are Moroccan, and Mr. Moratinos has said Spain would work to help enhance democracy and economic stability in Morocco.

Immigration policy is another key point in the new government's agenda. Political analysts have warned that hundreds-of-thousands of undocumented immigrants who live and work in Spain pose a potential threat to national security. Mr. Zapatero plans to legalize long-term residents of Spain.

At home, Mr. Zapatero faces pressure from separatist movements in the Basque country and Catalonia, which are seeking more self-rule.

Mr. Zapatero has also pledged greater spending on education, research and development, affordable housing, a crackdown on violence against women and recognition of homosexual marriage.