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Thousands Demonstrate on Eve of Spanish Elections - 2004-03-13

In Spain as families and friends mourned the 200 victims who died from the Thursday bombing attacks on four commuter trains headed to Madrid, Spanish authorities announced the arrest of five people believed to be implicated in the attacks.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes says the government has found a videotape in which al-Qaida claims responsibility for the bombings but the authenticity of the videotape could not be immediately confirmed.

Mr. Acebes made a second appearance before the media on Saturday to announce the arrest of five suspected accomplices of the terrorist attacks in connection to one of the leads being followed by investigators.

He said three of the suspects were Moroccan citizens while the other two were citizens of India. He added that two Spanish citizens born in India were also being questioned.

The arrests were made in the multi-ethnic, low-rent district of Lavapies in Madrid in relation to a mobile phone found in gym bag along with an exploded bomb on one of the bombed commuter trains. Mr. Acebes said the suspects were believed to be responsible for the sale and falsification the phone's card and did not rule out that they belonged to extremist Moroccan Islamic groups. Investigators believe that mobile phones were used to detonate the ten bombs that gutted the commuter trains.

Earlier in the day Mr. Acebes pointed out that the gym bag was one of the leads being investigated along with a van parked near the Alcala de Henares station where the four trains left before heading for Madrid. In the van were found bomb detonators, clothes and a tape of Islamic verse from the Koran. At that time the Minister said the government continued to believe that the Basque terrorist organization ETA was responsible for the attacks but did not rule out other possibilities. He also rejected allegations from opposition parties that the government was withholding information.

The Minister of Interior's evening appearance before the media took place as a crowd of a few thousand people demonstrated in front of the Popular Party headquarters in Madrid accusing the government distorting information collected from the investigation.

The demonstrators accused the government of lying and demanded the truth before they casts their ballots in Sunday general elections.

The last published opinions polls gave the ruling Popular Party a bare four- to six-point lead. If al-Qaida related terrorist groups are found to be responsible for the terrorist attacks in Madrid, voters could castigate the Popular Party for supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq which is still highly unpopular in Spain.