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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Anger at Spanish soldiers' funerals
Military honours for Spanish victims
Grief turns to anger at Spanish funerals
Relatives of Spanish soldiers killed in a plane crash in Turkey shouted "murderer" at Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as he attended a Mass for the victims.

The confrontation took place as Mr Aznar and Defence Minister Federico Trillo were walking behind King Juan Carlos to shake hands with relatives at the ceremony, held at Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid.

The anger was prompted by allegations over the reliability of the Russian-made Yak-42 hired by the government to bring the Spanish forces home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Coffins of the 62 soldiers were flown in earlier on Wednesday from Trabzon, near where the crash happened.

The king, dressed in military uniform, and Queen Sofia were greeted effusively but shouting from the back rows and angry finger-pointing began when Mr Aznar and Mr Trillo approached.

"There wasn't a worse plane that that one," shouted one angry relative.

"You (Trillo) went to Turkey in a good plane," said another.

YAK-42
A Yak-42, similar to the Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Trabzon, Turkey
First developed by Yakovlev Design Bureau, Russia
Entered service: 1980
Wingspan: 34.88m
Aircraft length: 36.38m
Cruising speed: 800+ km/h
Passengers: Up to 120

The incident echoed a growing dispute over the reliability of the plane involved in the crash, Spain's worst military accident.

Opposition parties, accusing the government of cutting corners to save money, have demanded a thorough investigation and also called the defence minister to appear before Parliament for questioning.

Dozens of soldiers and government officials were at the Mass, which was broadcast live on national television.

The coffins, draped with red and yellow Spanish flags, were laid out across the base's tarmac in lines of 10.

The broadcast showed Queen Sofia in tears during the ceremony.

The service ended with seven jets roaring over the coffins in a low pass leaving a smoke trail with the colours of the Spanish lag.

Tension subsided when people began shouting "Long live the king" and "Long live the army", triggering a round of applause.

'Best available'

Before the greetings from the prime minister and defence minister, families - including several children - wept and kissed the coffins.

Crash site
The crash happened in heavy fog

All the Spanish soldiers and 13 crew aboard the Ukrainian-operated aircraft were killed when it crashed into a mountain slope in fog early Monday.

On Monday, Defence Minister Trillo defended the YAK-42s leased from Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines, calling them among the best available.

He said several other Nato countries also used them.

Mr Trillo said Wednesday that initial investigations showed pilot error may have caused the crash.

Ukranian-Mediterranean Airlines has denied there were technical or mechanical problems with the plane.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma suggested Turkish air traffic controllers could bear some blame in the crash, saying Wednesday that the plane should have been rerouted to another airport after previous attempts to land in dense fog failed.

But Norwegian and Finnish military officials echoed the safety concerns of Spanish politicians.

Norwegian Armed Forces information chief Brigadier Finn K. Hannestad said they had stopped using the Ukrainian company in February because its planes did not meet international standards.

"We take safety seriously, and that's why we stopped using this company," he said.

Finnish military officials expressed similar misgivings.

Lt-Col Kimmo Salomaa said the same type of airplane had been used in peacekeeping operations until recently, when the contract was terminated because of poor maintenance and inadequate safety measures.





SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Turkey plane crash
26 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
Air disaster timeline
09 May 03  |  In Depth


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