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Victor Socialists to bring troops home

Madrid, March 15 (Reuters): Spain’s incoming leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero indicated today he would pull Madrid’s troops out of the “disastrous” occupation of Iraq in a major swing from his predecessor’s pro-American foreign policy.

The EU, concerned by growing signs that Thursday’s Madrid train bombings may have been carried out by Islamist militants, called emergency counter-terrorism talks.

Zapatero’s Socialists swept to office at the weekend in what some analysts said could constitute an alarming first case of Islamist militants influencing, by violence, the outcome of a major western election.

Zapatero himself called his triumph a first consequence of the Iraq war’s unpopularity with Spaniards.

“The second will be that the Spanish troops will come back,” he told a Spanish radio station.

“Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism... you can’t organise a war with lies,” he said in remarkably frank comments for the next Prime Minister of western Europe’s youngest democracy and fifth largest economy.

US President George W. Bush called to congratulate 43-year-old Zapatero. “The two leaders said they both looked forward to working together particularly on our shared commitment to fighting terrorism,” a White House spokesman said.

Zapatero, due to take office within the next month, repeated several times today his campaign pledge to pull out troops unless the UN takes charge in Iraq by mid-year — but added in his radio interview that scenario was unlikely.

Spain has 1,300 troops in parts of south-central Iraq. Critics of the government have argued that the Madrid bombings were the price Spain paid for backing the Iraq occupation.

Most commentators saw Zapatero’s shock election victory as driven by anger over Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s handling of the suspected al Qaida attack on Madrid commuter trains last Thursday that also wounded 1,500 people.

After Thursday’s attacks Aznar’s government initially blamed the armed Basque separatist group ETA, which denied involvement. Sunday would go down in history as “the day when Islamic fundamentalism was seen as dictating the outcome of a European election,” said Wilfried Martens, head of the European People’s Party, an umbrella group for European conservative parties. With almost all votes counted, the Socialists had won 42.6 per cent of the vote to the PP's 37.6 per cent.

With 164 seats in the lower house of parliament, 12 short of an absolute majority, Zapatero has said he intends to govern through dialogue with other groups. He ruled out the possibility of a coalition with regional parties.

But the PP will remain by far the largest single force in the upper house or Senate, potentially making it difficult for a Socialist government to pass legislation.

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