`Dirty war' scandal worsens

Click to follow
When one of his former key aides was detained on Monday, the Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, may have been dreaming of merely a slightly sleazy Christmas. Yesterday, however, the dream became a nightmare as Spain was split down the middl e over a so-called "dirty war" that threatens the survival of Mr Gonzalez's government.

The stock market slid and the peseta fell to near-historic lows against the Deutschmark as the fall-out pointed closer than ever towards the doors of Mr Gonzalez's Moncloa palace.

Opposition parties, the media and a large portion of Spanish society called for Mr Gonzalez to clarify his position - some spoke of his possible "role" - over GAL, the "Anti-terrorist Liberation Group" that struck against Basque terrorists of the Eta group.

Spain's leading anti-corruption judge, Baltasar Garzon, on Monday detained Julian Sancristobal, a former Director of State Security for Mr Gonzalez's government, on suspicion of financing and assisting GAL, which killed 25 Basques on the French side of the French-Spanish Basque country border in the first four years after Mr Gonzalez's accession to power in 1982.

Judge Garzon believes the GAL were mercenaries hired by Spanish police at the request of senior government officials and paid from the government's unaccountable "reserved funds" for security and intelligence operations. The judge is seeking to identify "Mister X," who he believes ordered or at least approved an eye-for-an-eye campaign against Eta soon after Mr Gonzalez took power.

Associates of Mr Sancristobal insisted yesterday that he had done nothing in public office which had not been approved "from above". Mr Sancristobal's boss at the time, then Interior Minister and one of Mr Gonzalez's closest friends, Jose Barrionuevo, d e fended Mr Sancristobal yesterday and said he would stick by him. Mr Barrionuevo said all his staff had given "excellent service to the state" and hinted that all had been working with the approval of his own superiors, namely the Cabinet and Prime Minist er.

Spain's biggest police union yesterday defended the actions of GAL and said they had helped "the survival of Spanish democracy".