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Spain's PM Lauds NATO

By Christopher C. Pappas, Crimson Staff Writer

Spain's prime minister applauded NATO efforts in Kosovo last night, telling an overflowing crowd at the ARCO Forum that military action is the only way to end ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

Jose Maria Aznar Lopez also took the speaking opportunity to tout a "new Spain" that is emerging as a world economic force.

Through an interpreter, Aznar--fresh from a NATO conference in Washington--spoke of the Western alliance's importance to the security of Europe. Spain, a NATO member, fully backs the operation in Yugoslavia, Aznar said.

"NATO must be on watch for any crisis in the world," he said. "I support the attacks. Ethnic cleansing, genocide and incompatible coexistence cannot be the rules we live by."

Aznar said the regime of Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic is isolated politically, and the NATO allies are united.

"Cohesion in the alliance is total," he said. "There are no cracks. There are no divisions."

According to Aznar, Serbian troops must be dislodged from Kosovo in order to halt the killing. He said international peacekeeping forces are necessary to shepherd ethnic Albanian refugees back to their homes.

Military force is the only way Serbia will comply with these demands, Aznar said.

"Milosevic will only accept these when he has no choice," he said. "And we must be a success in Kosovo."

Aznar also spoke of his country's membership in the European Union (EU), which he says is proof that Spain has become an open economy with an eye toward the next century.

He cited his nation's tough transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, and from a closed, centralized economy to a less regulated and more decentralized market.

"We have become an open and optimistic democracy," Aznar said.

Spain will be a major player in the EU, according to the prime minister, as it is creating jobs twice as fast as the European average and has recently embarked on tax reform. It also invests heavily in Latin America and has a healthy trade surplus with the rest of the world.

And, he continued, Spain will be ready to assume more economic and security responsibilities within the EU and NATO.

"The changes we made have been extraordinary," Aznar said. "But we have to continue modifying and improving or country."

"This is not a little task," he said. "But it is a very good ambition."

Aznar drew a large cheer when he announced that Spanish military service will no longer be compulsory by 2002. He also won applause when he said the United States and the European community must continue to fight against poverty and for democracy and freedom.

However, Aznar cautioned that the United States should not yet expect too much from his country, which he says still has a long way to go.

"Spain will enter the 21st century under historic conditions that are exceptional, and with opportunities that are significant," he said.

Aznar, leader of the People's Party, was an unsuccessful candidate for prime minister in 1989, but subsequently won the office in a watershed election in 1996. That year he defeated the incumbent Socialist Party administration and has since led a more moderate coalition.

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