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Defense lawyers' tactic to implicate King backfires in Spain's coup trial

The tactics used by defense lawyers in Spain's trial of 33 indicted coup plotters appear to have backfired.

During the trial, lawyers have attempted to implicate King Juan Carlos by hearsay evidence in the February 1981 coup plot. But instead of being discredited, the King has gained popular support.

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Politicians from Communists to conservatives have been outraged at the ''smear campaign.'' They claim the ''golpistas'' -- coup plotters -- are attempting a character assassination.

Last week the government itself felt obliged to release a statement expressing ''the most energetic revulsion for the abusive utilization of the figure of the King.''

Throughout the trial, which began Feb. 19, the King's name is mentioned frequently. Lawyer after lawyer repeats questions like, ''Did you believe you were acting in the name of the King? What did you think the King said, thought, etc. . . .'' Although none of the defendants offer any evidence, the subliminal message is clear: the King must have been involved.

The one lesson the plotting generals and colonels have learned -- and is now obvious to all -- is that they failed to ''neutralize'' the King.

He practically singlehandedly ended the rebellion, ordering the generals back to the barracks while the entire government and congress remained hostage at the hands of Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero and his civil guards.

Opposition Socialist leader Felipe Gonzalez declared that he ''never had a doubt about the King's democratic vocation'' and the Communist Party has proposed an interparliamentary commission to defend the King against slander. Conservative party leader Manuel Fraga called the defense tactic of implicating the King a ''gross campaign against the highest magistrate of the nation.''

The court-martials continue to be a strictly military affair in which civilian powers have little more influence than that of issuing protests. But after the wave of public indignation, the chairman of the court-martials has started ruling questions about the King as ''irrelevant.''

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The accused plotters claim to owe loyalty to the King, but they admit they never bothered to verify the King's alleged support and resisted orders from him for over 18 hours. They claim to have known about other ''more violent'' plots against Spanish democracy but refuse to give names because their military honor prevents them.

According to their testimony, they decided to launch their own coup to avoid the hard-line violent coup, always claiming the knowledge of the King and the lamentable state of the nation. Dry-witted Alfonso Guerra, deputy-general secretary of the Socialist Party, suggested that Lt. Gen. Jaime Milans del Bosch who militarily occupied the city of Valencia ''brought out his tanks just to break them in.''

This statement followed the straight-faced testimony of a minor officer who claimed that ''the intentions must not have been bad because we stopped the tanks at red lights.''

Most Spaniards are painfully aware of the lenient, if not sympathetic attitude the military has shown the defendants.

The implication is that although the defendents have contradicted each other, they were either ''only being patriotic,'' or were ''only following orders.''

Although the possibility of another coup attempt cannot be lightly dismissed by some Spaniards, the country seems more interested in the upcoming World Cup soccer matches.

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