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Incoming Spanish leader vows to fight terror

MADRID -- Spain's incoming prime minister vowed yesterday to fight terrorism and institute social reforms to help women and families on the eve of a vote in Parliament expected to elevate him to office.

Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also stood by his pledge to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes charge there by June 30.

''My position on the presence of Spanish troops is well known, as are its arguments and reasons," said Zapatero, who has asserted that the US-led war and the occupation are illegal because they lacked a UN mandate.

Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy accused Zapatero of not specifying what he means by UN control -- such as command over occupation troops or oversight of Iraqi interim leaders.

''Can you explain once and for all what it is you want?" Rajoy said.

Zapatero came back to the podium and said: ''Have no doubt that I am going to keep my word on the war in Iraq, on the rule of international law, on defense of a strong UN system, and also on the presence of the Spanish troops in Iraq." But he didn't answer Rajoy's question.

Zapatero's party scored a surprise win in the March 14 general election, with many Spaniards accusing outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of provoking the Madrid rail bombings three days earlier by supporting the war in Iraq.

The Socialists won 164 votes in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies, 12 short of a majority. But Zapatero is virtually assured of being voted in, with expected support from leftist parties that control 13 votes.

He began by remembering the 191 victims of the bombings.

''They had the right to be among us today," he said in an address broadcast nationwide. ''Their absence today should constitute an indelible presence."

Zapatero, 43, promised to overhaul Spain's security forces and intelligence services by creating a more efficient, unified command and providing more resources.

''The main objective of the government I preside over will be to wage an all-out war on terrorism, against any terrorism, against all terrorism," he said.

He made no mention of yesterday's release in the Middle East of a tape in which a man said to be Osama bin Laden offered a ''truce" to European countries that do not attack Muslims. The man said it would begin when their troops were withdrawn from Muslim countries. Spain has 1,300 troops in Iraq and 125 in Afghanistan.

But the future foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, speaking before Zapatero's speech, rejected the reported offer. ''What we want is peace, democracy, and freedom. We don't have to listen to or answer" the man speaking in the tape.

Domestically, Zapatero pledged greater spending on education, research and development, affordable housing for low- and middle-income families, a crackdown on violence against women -- a scourge he called Spain's ''greatest national disgrace" -- and recognition of homosexual marriage.

He said Spaniards' overall tax burden would not rise, and pledged to simplify the tax code as part of a program to modernize the economy ''so that well-being spreads to all."

Zapatero also said he would change succession rules in the Spanish royal family that now stipulate the first-born son is always first in line to become monarch, even if he has an elder sister.

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