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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March 2005, 16:05 GMT
Silent homage in tearful Madrid
By Marian Hens
BBC News, Madrid

Tributes at Madrid station
Candles and flowers have been left at Madrid stations
Madrid woke up to the mourning toll of bells on a day of remembrance for the victims of 11 March.

Acts of commemoration across the city had been carefully planned, but that did not make them less painful.

Trains stopped at noon in the central Atocha station, which a year ago was rocked by a series of powerful bomb blasts, to join in the five minutes of silence for the 191 dead and 1,800 injured in the attack.

The mood is gloomy and restrained on the platforms, which see 400,000 daily commuters.

"I was scared to take that train on my own today so I asked a friend to come with me," said Milagros Lopez.

"Many people from my country, Ecuador, were killed in the explosions. We are dependent on public transport and we have to keep commuting, but one does not overcome the trauma."

Atocha rail workers had asked the public to refrain from laying down flowers and lighting candles. They said they had already witnessed enough suffering and preferred a tempered tribute to the victims.

Sharing pain

But dozens flock to the virtual space that was set up in the station a year ago to pay homage to those hit by the blasts. They type messages to the dead in a computer that registers their words and shows them on a screen.

"Nothing dies if it is remembered. I won't forget you. PEACE," are the lines chosen by Maria Jose Ruiz, a commuter who queued for half an hour before reaching the keyboard.

I came to show my solidarity with the victims and to share my pain, not to look at politicians travelling in their big cars

"I go through this station every day on my way to work and every single day I think of those who left us on 11 March.

"Nothing has been the same since. I look at people's faces on the train now and wonder whether they will be terrorists," she says.

Another message reads: "You have been sacrificed, but we are all victims". It has been left by Fran, a tearful youngster.

"For the first time in a year," he says, "I have managed to gather the strength to come here and write a few words".

One floor above, at street level, many surround the red-brick station tower that has become to symbolise Atocha's tragedy. Candle lights flicker on the floor next to bunches of flowers and notes in Spanish, Chinese, French.

Remembrance park

Mariam Elohabi, a 19-year-old Moroccan student, sticks a handwritten note in Arabic.

"Stop it," it says, "I don't want to keep suffering."

"I've come here to share my pain with the rest," she tells me emphatically.

Royal family at park ceremony
Some people were angry they could not join the official ceremony
A few metres away, Martin Saguera, a sociologist, holds a banner proclaiming "No to Nationalisms and Fanatic Religions". He says he wants to express his disgust towards "any form of extremism".

Across the road, black official cars zoom into Retiro Park, carrying world leaders, the Spanish monarchs and national politicians, who have arrived to inaugurate the Forest of the Absent.

The area has been planted with 192 cypress and olive trees - one for each of the train victims and a police officer killed two weeks after 11 March in a standoff with seven key suspects who later blew themselves up.

The trees stand under clear Madrid skies, the silence only broken by the sound of the wind and the guests' slow breathing. A crown of white flowers is laid on the floor, and the sound of a cello tears the air.

The melody is called The Singing of Birds - a composition by the Catalan musician Pau Casals, which was played at many of the ceremonies and funerals after 11 March and is now a tune that for most Spaniards evokes peace.

Exclusion zone

Outside the park, a disgruntled crowd complains. They say they have been excluded from an event that they were encouraged to attend. Police did not allow them to approach the ceremony at the Forest of the Absent.

"This is unacceptable", says Josefa, a nurse who travelled especially for the event.

"On the day of the tribute to the victims, the Spanish people are kept out. We've walked for an hour around a three-kilometre fence hoping to find a place allocated to the public. But all we have seen is policemen."

Petra agrees: "I came to show my solidarity with the victims and to share my pain, not to look at politicians travelling in their big cars.

"We see them every day on television, anyway. Huge security measures for the authorities, you see, but what about our security?"

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