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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anger and Mourning as Spain Votes

MADRID -- Spaniards turned out in great numbers Sunday to vote in general elections thrown wide open by a reputed al-Qaida claim that it staged the Madrid terror attack to punish the government for backing the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Still reeling from the railway bombings that killed 200 people and injured 1,500, Spaniards entered voting booths grim-faced and speaking in whispers.

"Spain has never voted in such a tragic situation. There's a feeling of anguish, sadness, horror," said Joaquin Leguina, a former president of Madrid's regional government.

Some voters expressed anger at the ruling Popular Party of outgoing Prime Minister Jos? Mar"a Aznar, accusing him of making Spain a target for Islamic extremists because of his support for the Iraq war, which a vast majority of Spaniards opposed. Aznar sent 1,300 Spanish troops to Iraq after the conflict and 11 have died.

"I wasn't planning to vote, but I am here today because the Popular Party is responsible for murders here and in Iraq," said Ernesto Sanchez-Gey, 48, who voted in Barcelona.

Other voters expressed support for the ruling party because of its backing of the Iraq war and its crackdown on the armed Basque separatist group ETA, which the government initially blamed for Thursday's attack.

"I voted to help the government end terrorism," said Mari Carmen Pinadero Martinez, 58, a housewife who voted near the Atocha railway station, where trains were bombed.

Under brilliant skies after several days of rain, Spaniards flocked to the polls early. Five hours after they opened and seven hours before they closed, 41 percent of registered voters had cast ballots, a 5.5 percent increase over four years ago, Spain's electoral commission said.

The Popular Party had led in most polls until Thursday's attack and was favored to win Sunday, although it might not retain its majority. But Spain's announcement Saturday of five arrests in the bombing, including three Moroccans, and discovery of a videotape in which a man speaking Arabic says Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network claimed responsibility for the attack, has rendered those predictions meaningless.

The government initially blamed ETA, even as evidence mounted of an Islamic link and the opposition accused ministers of withholding information and blaming ETA in order to blunt suggestions that the government had provoked the rail carnage by backing the Iraq war.

A Basque-language daily on Sunday published a statement by ETA in which the group for a second time denied involvement in the attacks.

"All Signs Point to al-Qaida," the country's largest-circulation newspaper, El Pais, said in a front-page banner headline Sunday.

The videotape was recovered from a trash basket near a Madrid mosque after an Arabic-speaking man called a Madrid television station to say it was there, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.

"We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid," said the Arabic-speaking man on the video, according to a government translation. "It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies."

The man noted that the bombings came exactly 2 1/2 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and he threatened more attacks.

The approximately 24,400 stations at which 34.5 million eligible voters opened normally Sunday under sunny skies in most places. Turnout was expected to be high.