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MILITARY

Yak-42: Spanish government FINALLY accepts responsibility for 2003 military plane crash

Spain's defence ministry took political responsibility for the first time on Wednesday for a 2003 air accident which killed 62 Spanish soldiers as they were returning from Afghanistan.

Yak-42: Spanish government FINALLY accepts responsibility for 2003 military plane crash
Sixty-two Spanish peacekeepers returning from a peace mission in Afghanistan and 12 crew were killed when the plane crashed in thick fog and rain after making two unsuccessful attempts to land. Photo:

“There are reparations that are not economic, which have to do with recognition,” Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal told radio Cadena Cope a day after she met family members of the victims.

Sixty-two Spanish soldiers and 13 Ukrainian and Belarusian crew were killed on May 26th, 2003 when a Russian-built Yak-42 bringing them back from Afghanistan crashed in a mountainous area of northeast Turkey.

The defence ministry had chartered the plane from a Ukrainian firm despite warnings from military authorities that it was in poor shape.   

The accident was followed by a scandal over the misidentification of the bodies of 30 of the soldiers, which had been delivered to the wrong families.    

Three Spanish military officers received jail terms in 2009 for having misidentified the bodies.

The crash and subsequent misidentification scandal hurt the popularity of the then conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.    

The top advisory body to the government ruled in an October report that the ministry had an “administrative” responsibility in the affair.   

Cospedal said the defence ministry accepted the report's conclusion that “there is a relationship between the work of the defence ministry and the tragedy.”

But she stressed this acknowledgement was symbolic and did not have financial or criminal consequences as the victims have already been compensated by insurance firms.

Cospedal said the defence ministry also agreed to search for all documents related to the hiring of the Yak-42 plane that crashed.   

“We will do everything possible to find all the documents…related to the contracts,” she said.

Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party, in power at the time of the accident, had up until now never accepted any responsibility.   

“For the first time it was recognised that the Yak-42 never should have taken off,” said a spokeswoman for an association of victims' families, Curra Ripolles.

Opposition parties have demanded the “immediate” resignation of the defence minister in power at the time, Federico Trillo, now Spain's ambassador to Britain.

The government has said he will replaced in the coming weeks because his term is coming to an end, not because of the air tragedy.

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MILITARY

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp ‘kill squad’

Spanish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into messages posted in a WhatsApp group of retired military officers that denounced Spain's left-wing government and discussed shooting political adversaries.

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp 'kill squad'
Photo: JOSEPH EID / AFP

The group was made up of high-ranking retired members of the air force with some of the messages leaked in December to the Infolibre news website, sparking public outrage.

The messages focused on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists rule alongside the hard-left Podemos in Spain’s first coalition government since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

“I don’t want these scoundrels to lose the elections. No. I want them and all of their offspring to die,” wrote one.

“For them to die, they must be shot and 26 million bullets are needed,” wrote another, referring to the number of people who cast their ballots in favour.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in mid-December after finding the statements were “totally contrary to the constitutional order with veiled references to a military coup”.

But they dropped the probe after concluding the content of the chat did not constitute a hate crime by virtue of the fact it was a private communication.

“Its members ‘freely’ expressed their opinions to the others ‘being confident they were among friends’ without the desire to share the views elsewhere,” the Madrid prosecutors office said.

The remarks constituted “harsh” criticism that fell “within the framework of freedom of expression and opinion,” it said.

The decision is likely to inflame protests that erupted in mid-February over the jailing of a Spanish rapper for tweets found to be glorifying terrorism, a case that has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Spain.

According to Infolibre, some of the chat group also signed a letter by more than 70 former officers blaming the Sanchez government for the “breakdown of national unity” that was sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI in November.

Such remarks echo criticism voiced by Spain’s rightwing and far-right opposition that has denounced the government for courting separatist parties in order to push legislation through parliament where it only holds a minority.

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