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In Spain's elections, Socialists win with liberal appeal

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Zapatero disproves lightweight label

This year's campaign was bitterly fought, often nasty, and punctuated by a political assassination in the Basque region attributed to the terrorist group ETA, days before the vote. But despite PP criticism of Zapatero as soft on terror, the attack failed to unseat his party – a fate the PP suffered in the last national elections.

In 2004 Zapatero's Socialist party barely defeated the ruling Popular Party days after the March 11 Madrid train bombings – the worst terrorist attack in Spanish history. Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP, who were expected to win handily, insisted the attack was by Basque's ETA, even amid mounting evidence that Islamist terrorists had hit Spain for its participation in a US-led war in Iraq – increasingly unpopular in Spain, as it was throughout Europe.

The defeat in 2004 was never fully lived down by Mr. Rajoy, who often campaigned this year as if Zapatero was an amateur bent on destroying all that was right about Spain. In heated debates between the two last week – the first in 15 years – Rajoy repeatedly said to Zapatero, "Let me tell you how the Spanish people actually think."

Late Sunday night in Madrid the youthful Zapatero, flanked by his ministers and wife, told an ecstatic crowd he planned to "govern for everybody, considering above all those who do not have everything ... govern with women's aspirations in mind, for fulfilling the hopes of youth, and for the elderly – govern with a firm hand but with a hand held out."

Sunday's turnout was 75.3 percent, only slightly lower than the '04 figure of 77.2 percent – the highest in modern Spanish history.

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