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Spain Pays Silent Homage To Victims of Train Bombs

By Pamela Rolfe
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page A12

MADRID, March 11 -- With candles, church bells and mournful silence, Spaniards on Friday commemorated the first anniversary of bombings that ripped through four morning rush-hour commuter trains, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,500.

Madrid's 650 churches rang their bells for five minutes and trains at Madrid's main stations stopped in their tracks at 7:37 a.m., the moment that the first of 10 bombs exploded. At the city's Atocha station, the trains' destination, some grievers collapsed during the tribute, overcome by emotion, and were whisked away by paramedics.

Women mourn at a memorial site outside Atocha station on the first anniversary of the Madrid bombings. (Susana Vera -- Reuters)

In Solidarity with Spain

Spaniards lit candles, shed tears and laid flowers at the three stations where the trains blew up, re-establishing makeshift shrines that were removed last June after railway employees cited the emotional toll of working around them every day.

"We're still crying a year later," said Maria Gonzalez, one of the thousands of people who paid their respects at Atocha. "It's an open wound. It could have been any one of us."

Spain came to a standstill at midday as schoolchildren, office workers, government employees and residents poured into the streets. Flags at official buildings flew at half-staff and television broadcasts recounted the events of one year ago.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia led hundreds of Spanish and international dignitaries at noon in five minutes of silence to inaugurate the "Forest of the Absent," with 192 cypress and olive trees planted in honor of each of those killed in the attack, plus a policeman who died while storming an apartment where radical Muslim suspects blew themselves up to avoid arrest.

The sound of a lone cello playing Pablo Casals' "Song of the Birds," a composition dedicated to peace, broke the silence at the grove, located in Madrid's central Retiro Park.

"The world mourns with you," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said at a news conference in Madrid. Annan attended the noon tribute, as did Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Police have detained 75 people -- the majority of them Moroccan nationals -- in connection with the attack. Twenty-three remain in prison, pending formal charges.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company