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Spain gets a new prime minister while it sweeps up after coup attempt

By Jane MonahanSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 1981



Madrid

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo's confirmation as Spain's new prime minister Feb. 25, in a second-round parliamentary vote of confidence, has ended the country's month-long power vacuum.

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Unlike the first round, the confirmation vote of 186 votes in favor and 158 against gave Mr. Calvo Sotelo an absolute majority and the support of two parties whose deputies had previously abstained; the right-wing Democratic Coalition Party of Manuel Fraga, and the conservation Catalan Nationalists Party. This considerably strengthens the new premier's position in parliament.

The vote of confidence came after a meeting between King Juan Carlos and the heads of Spain's leading Political parties during which the implications of the abortive coup were analyzed in detail.

Before this, the first action taken by the interim government was to dismiss the deputy head of the Army Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Alfonso Armada, and the division commander of the southeast region of Valencia, Gen. Jaime Milans del Bosch, who temporarily declared a state of martial law in the region Feb. 23.

In addition, Col. Antonio Tejero de Molina, who led the Civil Guard assault on Madrid's Cortes (parliament) has been arrested along with a Navy commander; and 15 civil guards and three Army officers who belong to the armored division situated on the outskirts of Madrid.

These disciplinary measures -- which have renewed tension in the armed forces -- strongly suggest that the scope and coordination of the Feb. 23 coup attempt was much more extensive than at first considered. Indeed, it has been confirmed that three Army divisions based in Seville in the south and in Zaragoza and Valladolid in the north hesitated for a long time on the night of the coup attempt before finally siding with the King, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, against the right-wing rebels.

Against this background there is growing puzzlement over several aspects of the dramatic events surrounding the coup attempt:

* Was the outgoing prime minister, Adolfo Suarez, aware of an impending coup attempt when he resigned unexpectedly Jan. 29 with the words "I am leaving because I do not want this democratic process to be yet another parenthesis in the history of Spain"?

* What were the real objectives of the insurgents, given that the manifesto released by Colonel Tejero de Molina during his 17 1/2 hour occupation of the parliament did not once mention a plan to establish a military dictatorship? Instead, the manifesto stated that the objectives of the rebel Civil Guard units in Madrid and of the rebel Army units under General Milans del Bosch in Valencia were to prevent Spain's autonomy program from sliding into separatism; to stop terrorists acting with impunity; to restore Spain's prestige abroad; and to establish law and order at home.

According to political analysts the first two points of this communique clearly allude to the troubled northern Basque country and to a desire by right-wing sections in the armed services to declare a state of exception in the region. This would be aimed at intensifying military and police action against the Basque separatist guerrilla organization, Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna (ETA).

* Most important, there is puzzlement over what conditions were set by Colonel Tejero de Molina and by General Milans del Bosch for desisting in their rebellion when they were in the strongest bargaining position conceivable holding literally all of Spain's political elite prisoners in parliament.

Officially, Colonel Tejero de Molina set three conditions for freeing the parliamentarians and for his surrender: that he alone assume responsibility for the uprising; that he surrender himself to a Civil Guard garrison and not to a police or Army garrison; and that no photographs should be taken when he left the parliament building.

Spanish political commentators, however, think there were more conditions, and that a clue to these was provided by Colonel Tejero de Molina's first abortive coup attempt against the government of Adolfo Suarez in November 1978.

Then the objective of right-wing elements in the armed services was to hold the Cabinet of Mr. Suarez hostage against the formation of a broad right-wing government of national conciliation in which several ministerial posts would be held by t he Army.