Protesters Warm Up For President's Visit
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Tuesday June 12, 2001
President George Bush arrives in Spain today amid European protests at US use of the death penalty, an issue at the fore partly because of yesterday's execution of the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.
Human rights groups issued condemnations, and protests were held outside the US embassies in Madrid and Rome. The last person executed in a European Union country was guillotined in France in 1977.
"The death penalty is a barbarism inappropriate to our times," said Antonio Maria Pereira of Law and Justice, a Portuguese group.
In France, the education minister, Jack Lang, told Europe-1 radio Mr Bush should "examine his conscience" about the execution.
Protesters in Spain say the courts in Florida - where Mr Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor - almost sent a Spaniard wrongly to the electric chair. His conviction was overturned.
Joaquin Jose Martinez, 29, spent five years on death row accused of killing a drug dealer and his girlfriend in 1995. Last week an appeal court in Tampa struck down the conviction: key testimony from his ex-wife was unreliable.
Mr Martinez's return to Spain this weekend was seen as a victory against a justice system biased against poor hispanics. Donations by thousands of Spaniards enabled his family to hire its own lawyer. A court-appointed attorney defended at the initial trial.
"There are many people left suffering," Mr Martinez said on arrival in Madrid.
The death penalty protesters are among many Spanish anti-Bush groups planning to dog the US president on every leg of his five-country tour. On Sunday up to 20,000 activists from anti-globalisation and human rights groups held a warm-up march in Madrid.
But the centre-right government is hugely excited that Spain has been picked as Mr Bush's first European stop. Among the possible reasons are a desire by the president to please hispanics at home, a need to meet the US's main commercial competitor in Latin America and negotiations for a new deal on two US military bases in Spain.
Spanish officials have let it be known that they are willing to help defend and explain US policy in Europe.